When I was 17 years old I did a painting, 4 by 6 meters of the M81 Galaxy for my high school homecoming which would only stand for one night. It wasn't all that hard to do. I bolted stage flats to a pair of metal spars, covered them in a long roll of cardboard, painted it flat black and applied metallic paints with a toothbrush, spattered with a fork. We screwed in huge eyebolts, hoisted it up on cables to the roof of the airplane hangar we used as a school gym, lit it and photographed it.
Once it was up, people drifted in, awestruck by the grandeur of the thing, I was seized with a terrible sadness.
My life has been pretty good, all things considered, and I've had my little triumphs, here and there. Every one of them has been accompanied by a strain of melancholy.
Looking at the map, as the country drifts toward Obama, I'm once again taken with something akin to that melancholy. This time it's different. Well, for one it's not -my- victory, and I'm not at all sure Obama's entirely to my liking. Furthermore I've never been much of a rabid fan of any team. I love LSU because I love the culture, Baton Rouge took me in and made this stranger feel right at home. That's different. Where you're happy, there's your homeland.
Okay, it looks like Obama will win this election. But it's not like I can continue that sentence "unless something goes terribly wrong". Something has gone terribly wrong, and it's not just the economy. Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a pullout quote from John Kenneth Galbraith: "One can relish the varied idiocy of human action during a panic to the full, for, while it is a time of great tragedy, nothing is being lost but money."
We've lost more than money. It's also quite likely America's going for Obama because something has gone terribly wrong.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just having another attack of what Winston Churchill called his Black Dog. But I sense it, something is deeply wrong with America. Any person past the age of 50 can rightly say this isn't the America he knew, for things do change. But these are not necessary or even obligatory changes. We have somehow failed: changed in ways which can't be undone, not that any change can truly be undone and maybe that's the essence of what saddens me, that these changes are permanent. Solitudinem fecerunt, pacem appelunt == they made it a wasteland and they called it peace.
I consider the rancor and idiocy of this campaign, the clenched jaws of the gamblers who persist in believing this War on Iraq can be won, if only they can be given yet another lease on life. I resent their attacks on my patriotism. I see Sarah Palin as the apotheosis of everything gone wrong with this country. John McCain is merely a feeble parody of greatness: if he cannot constrain his Vice President, he will never be able to manage his Cabinet or the myriad commands under him.
So I consider my days and the works of my hands, and rue the day I ever began to care about such things as politics. The lunatics not only run the asylum, the run the rest of the country from within the asylum. Their idiocy is contagious. Big-Endians and Little-Endians from Gulliver's Travels.
When Obama's elected, I don't expect anything to change. The Republicans will do to him what they did to Clinton, to the letter, every single day of his presidency. I expect a vociferous, intransigent opposition to appear, a non-stop Goebbels-esque campaign of innuendos and lies. What we see now in Sarah Palin is only the overture. The Republicans will continue to whip up the rabble, accusing Obama of consorting with terrorists, conniving with evildoers everywhere. They will not stop. They are only beginning. McCain unleashed this monster and can no longer control it. It will lunge at Obama's throat, over and over and over.
Michelle Obama was interviewed the other day and said she had learned to overlook the smears and lies. It's all part of politics, she observed. But is it, really?
Of late, there's been a large and vocal exodus of intelligent Conservatives from the McCain movement, deeply angered by the tone of the campaign. This should come as no surprise to anyone: Conservative thinkers are not fools, and it takes as much guts, perhaps more, to be a Conservative at a time in history when the Tried and True has been so badly mismanaged by a posse of morons who ought to be Tried and have been not been True. Liberals, I always say, have a tough time of it, because our causes are bound up in genuinely awful people like Rodney King and death row inmates. DNA evidence has freed many innocent persons.
But now I see it can't be easy to defend Conservative positions when their candidates are genuinely nasty people. Maybe DNA ought to guide the Conservatives in future: don't nominate godawful people, take a better look at these people, because politics is more than the issues. We'd like it to be about the issues, but inevitably the question of character arises.
Chris Hitchens sums it up in his latest:
At my old English boarding school, we had a sporting saying that one should "tackle the ball and not the man." I carried on echoing this sort of unexamined nonsense for quite some time—in fact, until the New Hampshire primary of 1992, when it hit me very forcibly that the "personality" of one of the candidates was itself an "issue." In later years, I had little cause to revise my view that Bill Clinton's abysmal character was such as to be a "game changer" in itself, at least as important as his claim to be a "new Democrat." To summarize what little I learned from all this: A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact—if it happens to be a fact—that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.
On "the issues" in these closing weeks, there really isn't a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their "debates" have been cramped and boring affairs as a result. But the difference in character and temperament has become plainer by the day, and there is no decent way of avoiding the fact. Last week's so-called town-hall event showed Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.
But what follows this campaign? Newton's first law of motion:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
What external forces can be applied to change the uniform motion of this avalanche of ill-will? I see none at present time.
Newton's third law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The Democrats are getting nastier by the minute, and I'm not sure it's a question of who's provoking who, I'm not going down that road and say the Republicans started it. The Hillary / Obama fight was horrible and some noses are still out of joint. First a tiny fraying of the fabric, then a tiny tear, then the dogs will pull the thing to pieces, worrying it, their heads thrashing back and forth, growling and biting at anyone who dares interfere.
Forces have been unleashed over which we have no control.
We're all bewildered by the insanity of the situation at present time. The stock market dances around like a cow eating hallucinogenic jimsonweed, mooing crazily, her tail lashing around, her eyes rolling. Iraq's going to hell in a hand basket, the Arabic language papers are going bananas. Our attacks into Pakistan are destabilizing the newly elected government. India's Hindu fanatics are killing Christians. Iceland's going bankrupt.
I don't know where it will all stop. Don't think you do, either. But we're all in this together. If the only thing we salvage from this mess is our sense of propriety, the unassailable belief that our political opponents are not our enemies, that each of us is worthy of respect and the benefit of the doubt, we will have preserved something essential. We will have saved ourselves.