Saturday, May 24, 2008

After the Swoon, the Anger

There's been a lot of free floating sex and love talk in this campaign about HRC and about Obama. It seemed an irresistible metaphoric impulse--she the stalker and the angry girl friend, Obama as the love object. Obama and Edwards as pretty boys. McCain as the studly daddy. At first I thought we'd kind of plumbed the depths of this classic republican attack on democratic broads as wandering vagina dentatas and democratic males as emasculated gay sex freaks. But today in an incredibly insightful post Digby points out another important aspect to the sexualization and romanticization of the candidate by the other key player in our little national drama--the press corps. Jumping off of Somerby's scathing review of the press corps self described "Swoon" for McCain and for Obama Digby points out where the metaphor really leads us. She says:

I'm a pragmatic sort and I am more than willing to take advantages where they come. But the fact that journalists like Anderson are all swooning over Obama is a very mixed bag. Right now it will be helpful in that the press corps also swoons over McCain so perhaps we'll get a little balance. But boys like him tend to get very nasty when their idols turn out to be mortal.

This swooning between Obama and the press could very well end up being a classic Dangerous Relationship. One of the most important signs of a potential abuser is if they put you up on a pedestal:

Being on a pedestal may feel great at the time, but all idols are bound to fall. The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall.

Take notice if a person has assigned you a position or qualities that are completely unrealistic given where you are in the relationship. For a new lover to say, "you are the light of my life" or "you are everything to me" in the first few weeks of dating is scary. They are impossible to live up to. Your lover knows too little about you. Inevitably, he is projecting onto you all kinds of qualities you may or may not have.

It is flattering to have all these fops of the village press corps drooling all over a big Democrat. But they have issues. Big ones. They have the attention spans of a six week old ferret and the fidelity of a cat in heat. It's extremely foolish to trust these abusers with our future. Caveat Emptor.


As usual Digby gets to the heart of a complex phenomenon by pointing out what is hiding in plain sight: A politician is not a romantic lover. And if he or she is treated that way the lover and the love object are both in for a world of pain. Romantic relationships are inherently unstable even when you are actually in them, with an actual aquaintance. How much more dangerous are they when they are indulged at a distance with someone with whom you, the voter or the press person, can have no real relationship? People who imagine that they are "in love" with someone as distant from them, and distinct from their lives, as a political candidate are almost by definition delusional. That they may be encouraged to feel that the relationship is real, and rewarding, just makes it the more dangerous for all concerned. The press (and some of the voting public) is being set up for a huge let down and a sense of betrayal because, and I'm almost embarrassed to have to point this out, a candidate is not a lover, a friend, or even an aquaintance in most cases and thus and can never give us what we are promising ourselves they will--full attention, constant love, perfection. This is true not just of Obama--although the level of worship that he is getting is quite remarkable--but of all candidates who run as potential saviors, friends, and confidantes.

The press has insisted, for a number of years, of putting all American voters into this infantilized and absurd position. The whole beer thing, of course, comes to mind. But it has a longer history than that with endless stories about the wives and children of important people, Barbara Bush's fake pearls, Mrs. Nixon's "good republican cloth coat." We are always encouraged to imagine "which candidate we like" and "who is the best looking" and "who would be the most fun for us" and etc...If the chance arises we are encouraged to imagine that the fact that a politician has had sex with someone other than his wife is an identical betrayal of his voters, as though in being elected he had performed the Venetian Doge's symbolic marriage with the sea and tossed a ring to the crowd at his inauguration.

This is a very peculiarly American political fixation. It doesn't have to be this way. We will all be doing Obama a favor if we help the press and the democratic voters to back off the romantic illusions and deal with Obama and his job as a purely political one. But I don't think its even possible.