Calhoun's Can(n)ons for September 10, 2010
I hear America singing . . . Somebody hand me an aspirin. My ears hurt.
We want major health care reform! But don’t change MY health care policy. Stop socialistic government-run health care! But keep your hands off MY Medicare. No new taxes! But fix the roads in front of MY house and hire more teachers for MY kid’s school and put more policemen on MY beat. Don’t raise the deficit! But get ME a stimulus-money job. No government regulations! But make sure MY breakfast eggs are safe. Reform Social Security! But don’t change MY benefits or costs. Bring our troops home, the war’s bankrupting us! But let’s bomb Iran! Shut the border down! But don’t deport MY gardener. America welcomes all religions! But not Muslims, so let’s get a bunch of Christians together and threaten to burn Korans in a true Bonfire of the Stupidities.
It’s an old, old song heard whenever Americans get unnerved by events. It’s incoherent and filled with fear-generated divisions, long simmering resentments and bone-deep religious, racial and economic hatreds. While the song comes from the American heart – hypocritical and a-historical to the core, the knives always there just under the carefully burnished, smiley-faced surface – it is always roused into full voice by opportunistic political choirmasters and master demagogues manipulating the singers and the song for their own profit and power.
And when the last note dies, the result of all the sound and fury is almost always a nation filled with self-inflicted bullet holes shot through a great many feet, loud wails of anguish, and a HUGE transfer of wealth into the bank accounts of the select wily few. Which sets us all up for the song cycle to repeat itself, the problems unsolved, the lessons unlearned, the connection between words and music a complete blank.
But the run-up to this particular election is not without its delicious moments – little operatic solos and riffs and delicious subtexts and wrong notes.
Consider the ironies of multi-gazillionaire (EBay) Meg Whitman running for California governor on a platform of business know-how and fiscal-prudence while spending like a drunken sailor --$104 million of her own money so far. This to buy a chance to govern a financially busted state polarized by gerrymandering and locked into a furious refusal to seriously change the way the state taxes, budgets and spends its money. Or Carly Fiorina, who, as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, downsized and outsourced 30,000 jobs before getting fired and walking away with a big fat bonus. She’s now running for senator as a job-creating business leader. And while the Koch brothers (oil and gas) are pouring money into opposing a California green alternative energy ballot measure, Exxon Mobil (oil and gas) just invested $300 million in a San Diego green alternative fuel company that will benefit from that same ballot initiative. Does anybody have a program here? How do you spell cognitive dissonance, anyway?
And then there’s the richness of the subtexts and symbolism of the leading notes of this song cycle. Take Joe Miller from Alaska, the newest tea-party-ish darling du jour. Is that carefully clipped quasi scruffy semi-unshaved permanent five o’clock shadow the result of careful two-day-growth manscaping like the macho undercover actors in the new TV series “Dark Blue?” Or an overdose of testosterone that keeps him running around the northwoods in big-check flannel shirts hauling moose antlers by the armload?
Well, no matter. In the upcoming Fox Noise/Republican/Tea Party 24/7 FearFearFear! congressional campaign – Nonexistent headless bodies in the Arizona Desert! Deadly Killer Mosques at Ground Zero! Black helicopters coming to kill your Grandma if ObamaCare comes to your town! Communism creeping over America that can only be stopped by Glen Beck who’s now speaking for God while raking in the filthy lucre of mammon! (Buy gold, now!) – what better subliminal message can a candidate project in these ginned-up scary times than an image filled with moose antlers, five o’clock shadows, the whiff of chain-saw engine oil and buffalo check plaid? Photo shoot, styled-up Momma and Poppa Grizzlies coming to protect us. Yes. America is saved!
And if nobody wants to seriously talk about choices and consequences, if nobody has the patience or foresight to work for long-term goals or put in place real reform that actually results in, well, real reform, if nobody will support efforts that will lead to a transformative payoff in the future by changing parts of a system that simply aren’t working anymore, then style over substance, image over content is about all that’s left.
So, here it is. The word to fashionistas --Flannel. Better stock up now.