I was going to post this in Charles’ comments, but I decided to share it with all of you here instead. I haven’t been following any of the campaigns for anything lately, because I’ve just been too sick, busy, or frankly disinterested in politics. So I certainly can’t muster up much concern about the latest mudball fight between two candidates from our look-alike political parties. Apparently a stupid charge of “racism” flung at the pol on one side led to faux-outraged fingerpointing at the pol on the other side for certain passages in some novels said other-side pol wrote. The passages, as quoted, certainly seem gross and disgusting, but they were (and I know this is an overused phrase) taken out of context. The novels, which I have no plan of reading, seem to be about troubled characters who have bad things happen to them, see bad things, and do bad things. So one would suppose that these things must be described, though of course one can quibble about just how much detail should be gone into. As for whether the author “condones,” in the favorite word used by our bright yet stupid, literary yet illiterate overclass, the sort of things his characters do can’t be proved simply by quoting the passages, especially not in these days of overbearingly naturalistic “tell it like it is” fiction. Naturally, they are being used as evidence of just that: proof that this person, James Webb, is some sort of sicko who perhaps gets off on writing about disgusting things and therefore should not be trusted in a position of leadership of This Great and Pure Nation of Ours. Unlike, say, Bill Clinton, who merely did things with girls and cigars right there next to the Oval Office in real life.
The thing that amuses me, and never ceases to amuse me, is the surprise of so many that this has become an issue. The fact that we will never be able to have the clean, polite, civilized political contests of our dreams has been blanketed in a thick layer of patented triple-strength American denial for decades. The truth is the freakiness that overcomes Americans at the very idea their political figures have feet of clay is as predictable as the sunrise. Whenever election time comes around, it is heralded, as a hurricane is presaged by wind and clouds, by a raft of commentators in full oh-dear mode hoping that this election won’t be as “nasty” and “mud-slinging” as the previous one. And after that, the deluge. And then once the dust has cleared and one of the clones who were running has managed to climb onto whatever perch it was striving for, we have to put up with the shell-shocked survivors moaning about the “viciousness” and “mean-spirited rhetoric” and declaring that one more round of this awful stuff will be the end of the nation.
I know I’ve extolled the virtues of hypocrisy before, but I believe in the conscious hypocrisy that causes a person to tell a relative they are fond of that they look nice in a dress that happens to make them look awful, and in general is geared to fostering seemly behavior in public. The sort of hypocrisy that is no use to anyone is the unthinking, automatic kind that results in the average person in the street having no problem buttonholing strangers and giving them details on their sex lives, the medications they’re on, how many nervous breakdowns they’ve had — but being unable to stand the idea of an American running for office who can’t prove himself to have a background and lifestyle of pristine purity that isn’t demanded of kindergarten teachers. If a candidate admits he went to a psychatrist once, thirty years ago, when it was in fashion and everyone and their dog was lying on a leather couch telling some bearded fraud about their dreams, there would go that candidate’s campaign right down the tubes, because people would be afraid to vote for someone who “might go crazy” in office. A divorced politician doesn’t have the difficulty he once had, but he still might as well wear a big red “D” on his chest forever. Americans hate and fear the idea of a “theocracy” but want their leaders to go to church.
And so on and so forth. A long time ago we apparently decided to treat people seeking a position in government, even that of school board chair-warmer, the way primitive tribes used to treat their leaders: as objects of superstitious veneration who got to end their terms of office stretched out on an altar, their eviscerated bowels and dying writhes being interpreted for their omens of the future by druid priests. The outcome of their divinations? “More of the same.”