Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Inevitably, the Candidates Begin Sending Me Secret Messages


After long fearing that only Christianity and pork inspire the GOP, I see McCain’s now considering as his running mate Rep. Eric Cantor, a Jewish, anti-tax politician nicknamed “Uberhund” (albeit in English), which was the nickname of the prior Seavey family dog (1989-2005, RIP). Between this development and the previous talk about McCain considering Bobby Jindal (Jindal having gone to Brown when I was there), it’s almost as if McCain is trying to lure me personally back from the Libertarian Party — but since he, like the dreaded Huckabee, has explicitly criticized the libertarian strain within the Republican Party, that’s not likely to happen this year.

And as political scientists always say: as Todd Seavey goes, so goes the electorate — thus the recent swing toward overt anarchist-atheist rhetoric in most political speeches (and the rush to do karaoke tonight at Iggy’s on Second Ave. between 75th and 76th in honor of my birthday, arriving between 8 and 9 if you can, to get seats in the one big performance area).

Seriously, though: the sad truth, of course, is that communal, vaguely spiritual rhetoric, delivered with populist enthusiasm, is what sells — with Obama, who has been almost explicitly anointed primarily for his rhetorical skill, perhaps being the inevitable result of campaigning in a large, democratic society. And the media are, at long last, more than happy to embrace a candidate whose main qualification is talking, which is their favorite thing, after all. It’s the logical end result of the dialectic that’s been at work at least since Woodrow Wilson.

As for me: fittingly, in between the Democratic and Republican conventions over the next few weeks (which I will not be attending), I will be attending a one-day Boston conference organized by the libertarian journal Critical Review, and though the conference is on the topic of public ignorance, their latest issue (Vol. 19, No. 2-3) is on the flip side of public ignorance: the preachy, bully-pulpit “rhetorical presidency.”

As the issue describes in detail, and as I alluded to in a previous entry (and was criticized for putting too simply by Canada-based political scientist Jacob Levy), the Founders did not regard direct addresses by the president to the public as appropriate (and indeed feared that would lead to demagoguery), straying from that rule mainly on simple ceremonial occasions and then keeping the blather to a minimum. When Andrew Johnson tried appealing directly to the public in order to criticize and do an end-run around Congress, it was considered an impeachable offense.

But over time, especially since Wilson, presidents cajoling, stirring up, and haranguing the ignorant masses has become the norm — even something the intelligentsia values. The president no longer simply executes duties dictated by the legislature — he “leads” the populace, like some earthly god, with all the pseudo-parental, quasi-religious mindlessness that implies, and we are worse off for it.

In some sense, Obama is perfect for the role — more so even than Mr. “Straight Talk,” the media’s ex — but then, as Mencken said, democracy is the theory that the masses know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

ADDENDUM: Coincidentally, J.R. Taylor (without having read this blog entry) just sent me a link to this message he customized for me — and you can create your own (assuming I’m not hallucinating it).

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