Sunday, November 9, 2008

Change You Can Motherf***ing Believe In!

As noted, the recent local and national electoral struggles have been physically and emotionally exhausting.

What to do afterwards is a problem in more than one regard. One problem is the tendency of the mainstream media and quotidian thinkers--during, and above all, after the campaign--to praise "bipartisanship." To be sure, the country accepts the verdict of the electorate and to that extent unites behind the new president, and to be sure, a certain measure of inter-party cooperation is essential to getting business done. But to elevate "bipartisanship" and "crossing the aisle" to an abstract ideal--as both candidates to some extent did as supposed evidence of their "credentials"--is also in some way deeply perverse: Why bother at all to have even two parties? (not least, when the ideological difference between them is rather modest, at least as measured by the scale of historical and global alternatives).

It was dismaying to watch the presidential debates and see the reaction of the designated pool of proverbial "undecided" voters respond in live time: Whenever one candidate criticized another, the graph of approval dipped downward. This had nothing to do with the merits of the argument at hand, and rather, with the mere fact of criticism. There are few more damning indictments of our political culture.

Hard political debate was a fact of life for American and French Revolutionaries, and the debates in the British Parliament are notoriously more boisterous than anything that occurs in our Capitol. There is something to be said, if only for the sake of basic honesty, for recognizing that people disagree about political issues, that these issues are important, and that we should cultivate and honor rather than paper over those disagreements.

How, then, to acknowledge irreconcilable disagreement and yet move on?

Sigmund Freud acknowledged the problem when, in his Civilization and its Discontents, he cited the immortal and incorrigibly ironic Heinrich Heine on the problem of enemies, reconciliation, and revenge. As Freud explained, "A great imaginative writer may permit himself to give expression--jokingly at all events--to psychological truths that are severely proscribed." Heine explained:
Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those threes. Before tbeir death, I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one's enemies--but not before they have been hanged.
Freud himself but a few years later drew up a "hate list" of his own enemies.

Now conservative commentators are gnashing their teeth at the announcement that Rahm Emmanuel, member of Congress, Democratic Party official, and former Clinton administration staffer, will become Chief of Staff in the Obama White House.
Given all the predictable and nauseating banalities about "cooperation" and "bipartisanship," it was therefore a refreshing change to see this humorous piece about Emmanuel and real "hardball" politics.

Play ball!

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