Saturday, June 07, 2008

Identification Politics

I missed Hillary's endorsement speech this morning, I'm in PDT and had things going on this morning...OK, sleeping going on. My son had brought home an Xbox game that I've played out to the ending battle and last night being stubborn I battled the "boss" until I beat the game. Stubborn enough to spend too many hours on it. I had wanted to watch the speech, there's a lot riding on such things right now. The reviews have been pretty universally positive and I'm glad of that. I'm glad of that for the Obama campaign and for those who supported Sen Clinton. I'm glad for her supporters that she showed their votes were not for someone small and vindictive but for a master politician.

This however, distressed me. This is one of the more rational reactions but it betrays something I find really troubling.

"I've always thought she would make a better president, even though I won't have any problem voting for Obama."

For a Democrat of something left of the Republican middle this is an entirely reasonable sentiment.

As Hillary Clinton spoke, my son, Nick, who is 16, came into the living room, saw what I was watching and asked if Clinton had officially announced her withdrawal. I nodded, unable to speak, and he noticed for the first time that there were tears on my cheeks.
What? Jeremy Gerard tears up because Hillary is making an endorsement speech? This is not a funeral for hero, it is a politician endorsing another after a close loss. I had tears in my eyes when Obama gave his "victory" speech because a black man could be the nominee of a major Party and I assume that if it had been Sen Clinton I'd have had tears for the same reason regarding a woman finally making it. This was going to be historical in a very large sense no matter which candidate won. I also am quite sure I'd have shed no tears if it were Obama speaking today, instead.

Why tears? If you were a close personal friend of Hillary's with stake in her happiness I'd understand. If you were a full time worker in such a campaign I'd understand, somewhat. But this is somehow personal, the idea that a candidate lost. Somebody does, that is exactly how that goes.
You needn't be a feminist to feel the awful wound, the deflating, business-as-usual aspect to Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from contention for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Now that confuses the snot out of me. I'd hope to the stars that we had an ending that was business as usual, the alternatives are somebody died or a knockdown brawl at the Convention is in order. Now I'm not picking on Mr. Gerard here, if you want to see something completely divorced from politics go read comments on Taylor Marsh or etc. (find your own way, I'm not giving credibility with a link) The point of this exercise is show that an entirely reasonable sounding individual is demonstrating something I find offensive and silly on any candidate's behalf.

This is personal identification with a political candidate, a person who has managed to thrive in a seriously flawed system. This is a person who is as much a product of advertising as dish soap. I don't care what candidate is in question, their life is full of compromises, deal making, and searches for funding. There is a string of unfulfilled promises behind them and questionable associations. For heaven's sake, your next door neighbor probably has a better record of associates and promises kept. People with their own agendas are attracted to politicians and politicians have to work within an adversarial environment once elected. The also have to keep getting elected. Their reality is considerably more tawdry and difficult than a voter's and expecting or thinking they're immune is silliness. It absolutely guarantees very serious disappointment.

The Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world could not have functioned without that cadre of worshipers. The people who personally identified with them, in whom they found more than political appeal, supported and acted on the craziest ideas. You need look no farther than the 28% who believe George W Bush is doing a good job. There is no quantifiable evidence to back such an idea - even if you give them the lack of terrorist attacks in the US. They have identified with Bush, they are driven to rage by opposition to him even as all the core ideals they claim to have voted for are violated. This is not about political philosophy, this is about personal identification. Not one of these people lives in your daily reality, they are not you, they at best loosely symbolize your aspirations.

Work for their election, vote for them, help keep facts straight, advocate, be involved - but do not personalize these people, it is dangerous.

1 comment:

Carla said...

I think that you'll find as we move forward into the general that a lot of folks have personalized the point of making him a messianic figure in politics.

That's beyond what you saw with the Hillary supporter cited in your piece.

And I'm willing to bet that there's a lot more of those Obama folks out there than Hillary devotees.

I came to Obama by default, frankly. I wanted Edwards but it wasn't to be. And my problems with Hillary Clinton are too ingrained to support her. So I don't have that rock-fan, starry-eyed thing for Obama that we often see.

I've worked the line at 3 Obama events this year. People are showing up to see the Messiah. If you found this quality troubling in a Clinton supporter....I would think that the deeper and more visceral qualities in many who support Obama would be exponentially problematic.