August 23, 2008

Death Match: If the Words Don't Kill You, the Bombs Will (I)

I humbly offer a word of advice to Mr. Obama and/or his campaign strategists: it might be best if you took some time to study dramaturgy in addition to...well, everything else. One of the keys to a certain kind of dramatic structure is that the climax occurs at the moment of maximum suspense. The arrival and duration of that particular moment are determined by the ways in which the preceding conflicts have been developed, until the opposing forces have reached the point where the conflicts must be resolved, at least in significant part. The climactic moment cannot be prolonged beyond what the accumulated weight of the dramatic structure will bear. If it is prolonged too much, drama and suspense begin to ebb. When it is prolonged far too much, then what had been rigid goes slack; what had been stiff hopes, if you will, begin to droop.

In such lamentable circumstances (which all of us have experienced; yes, you have too, don't deny it), instead of an ecstatic explosion, we are sometimes left with only a pathetic dribble. In this case, the pathetic dribble goes by the name Joseph Biden.

A Biden dribble just before the Democratic convention is a shocking failure of dramatic imagination. This exercise in digital manipulation was certainly not good for me, and I can't imagine it was good for anyone, probably including Obama. I very much doubt that even Barack wants a cigarette after this failure to achieve satisfactory completion.

I do worry that the Obama and Biden egos will fail to fit into the same room. I suppose, however, that might have its advantages. But consider the nature of the self-regard enjoyed by these two men. We have Obama who, at a moment of personal triumph, gloried in telling us:
[I]f we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless...


... this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal...


... this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.
Here's an open secret: Obama and his most fervent supporters don't wonder why people mock his remarkable and frequently very troubling pretentiousness and grandiosity. They know perfectly well why these qualities are mocked; they simply prefer that people succumb to Obama mania or, failing that, refrain from all criticism. Remarks such as those directly above are not at all unusual for Obama; they constitute his normal frame of reference. They would appear to reflect his considered judgment as to his own role in American, and world, history. Now that is disturbing, and perhaps even disturbed. I have written about why I regard anyone who would want to be president, and who affirmatively seeks to hold that kind of power of life and death over many millions of people, as deeply suspect in psychological terms, but most politicians are at least sufficiently astute to keep the self-reverential paeans more muted. But we should give Obama his due: he unquestionably wins the self-pleasuring championship. (It occurs to me that this aspect of Obama's public persona may be related to the dramatic failure noted in my opening paragraphs. It is sometimes noted that an excessive amount of self-pleasuring may result in a severely decreased ability to interact well with others. Obama's advisors might look into that. Well, if he'll let them, which he probably won't.)

As for the oversized Biden ego, I stand by this description I wrote in January 2007:
Has there ever been a person in public life who projects such an overwhelming sense of pomposity and the absolute and certain knowledge that every word he speaks is Sanctified Wisdom from On High, while simultaneously uttering the most shatteringly stupid statements, as Joe Biden? One has the feeling that he believes that, if he were to be taken from our presence, all life on this planet would immediately cease and the Earth, and perhaps the entire universe, would vanish completely in a moment. Biden is not only the Transmitter of Knowledge, but the ultimate Giver of Life Itself.
That comes from an essay entitled, "The Racism We Refuse to See," and it dealt in part with Biden's well-known comments about one Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.... I mean, that's a storybook, man."

As I explained in the earlier piece: "of course Biden's remarks were racist in nature." See the article for my full case; the inclusion of the word "clean" is key. As to whether Biden himself is racist, while I will refrain from a final judgment on that question, I must say that the record legitimately makes one highly suspect. From the earlier essay:
Since he is, after all, the man who delivered a eulogy for Strom Thurmond ("The truth and genius and virtue of Strom Thurmond is what I choose and we all choose to remember today."), Biden's recent remarks should come as no surprise. It is irrelevant in this context that Thurmond may have played a role of some significance in Biden's own life. All our actions matter, and our public actions carry particular significance. Thurmond was one of the most vicious racists in our recent history. To praise him publicly, while sanitizing his hateful and destructive record with nauseating sentimentality, is to grant him a respectability he never deserved, and should not have been accorded. If Biden had personal ties that mattered to him, he could have declined the request and paid his respects privately. Would you have delivered a public eulogy for Thurmond? If so, please don't introduce yourself to me if our paths should cross.
Then there are Biden's remarks about Indian-Americans, noted by TalkLeft. You should also look at Jeralyn Merritt's "Case Against Joe Biden for Veep," which includes this quote: "For decades Biden has been at the forefront of the war on drugs..." That ought to make certain conservatives deliriously happy. O joyous day! That same post offers several other remarkably awful statements on various subjects (note the Biden comments on border fences). I referred to Biden offering "shatteringly stupid statements." As always, understatement shall be my undoing.

It was entirely unsurprising that certain leading liberal bloggers did their best to minimize the racist import of Biden's comments about Obama. Once again from the earlier piece:
And the predictable "debate" ensues: Just how awful is this? Is Biden merely dumb as a box of rocks, which stupidity leads him to make ungraspably offensive and patronizing remarks? Or, heaven forfend, did the writer leave out a comma? Or is Biden actually, really, truly a racist? One wonders if those liberals so carefully weighing the precise meaning of Biden's words would manifest the same measured care if the words had been spoken by a Republican. Well, no: one doesn't wonder for a moment.
These earlier strenuous efforts by Democratic boosters to minimize Biden's genuinely dreadful utterances, together with Obama's selection of Biden as his running mate, should represent a huge obstacle to the determined and frequently deeply dishonest efforts by Obama partisans to smear everyone who offers sustained criticism of Obama as motivated in significant part by racism.

I have been the target of these kinds of attacks myself, as I discussed in "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been ... a Racist?" As I explained, I consider these attacks on me arising out of my criticisms of Obama to be entirely remarkable, for I have written numerous lengthy, detailed essays about the immense evil of racism and its central role in American history. (Many of those essays, although not all of them by any means, are referenced and excerpted in that piece.) But this only goes to show the comprehensiveness of the Obama campaign's efforts to stifle all serious discussion of what he actually stands for and the merits of his candidacy. As I wrote:
So now we have our first Black presidential candidate, one who may very well be the next president of the United States. In the context of this miasma of lies about racism, almost no one will tell the truth about Obama and what he stands for. (I should say what he appears to stand for; it tends to change from day to day, and hour to hour, but the overall meaning of his policies is unmistakable: like almost every politician of national prominence, he stands for the authoritarian-corporatist state at home, and for endless wars of aggression and other interventions overseas. In short: he stands for the white status quo.) ... If you dare to point out, as I have repeatedly, that Obama has adopted every critical view and policy of the white ruling class, you are accused of being a racist.

At this point, it is crucial to make a few facts absolutely clear. The worst accusation that can be made about someone who engages in political debate and discussion in this country is that he or she is a racist. This is not a disagreement, even a vehement one, about a specific view on a specific subject: it is, and is meant to be, an attack on the person as a person. If the accusation is believed, it means the accused is profoundly, unforgivably immoral and loathsome. It further means that nothing the person might say is to be treated with any degree of seriousness. The accusation of racism is designed to shut the person up, to shut him down, to obliterate him entirely and to eliminate him from all consideration. The purpose is the total and absolute destruction of the person so accused.

If the majority of Americans had even a casual acquaintance with the truth, our sensitivity to the charge of racism and the frequency with which we deploy it might be a good thing. As I have said, and as I have written in many, many essays, racism is a singularly immense evil, one that encompasses a host of lesser evils, many of which are also lethal. But in the context of the unending lies we tell ourselves about ourselves and our own history, many of the charges of racism are nothing more than smears. I will acknowledge that the Obama campaign and many of Obama's supporters have happened upon a spectacularly effective strategy: with a minimum of effort, almost any criticism of Obama can be turned into an accusation of racism against the person offering the criticism. This not only deflects all attention from the criticism itself: it demonizes the critic, and removes him from all future debate. I don't think Obama and his strategists are intelligent enough to have figured out all the complex reasons that make this strategy work so well. I think they've stumbled upon it in the way most politicians conduct their careers: they are shrewd and clever, they sense where the opponent's weakness is, and they are especially sensitive to blood in the water. None of this is true intelligence. It's politics, perhaps politics very well-executed, but just politics. True intelligence doesn't enter into it.

There is a further point about the smears charging racism, and it is vital that this issue in particular be appreciated. In many articles, I've discussed the mechanisms by which Americans desperately seek to convince themselves of their inherent superiority, of their "unique" goodness. In the current campaign, that is precisely what the constant charges of racism are: a way for those making the accusations to convince themselves that they are genuinely good, that they of course are not racists, that they are enlightened and noble. But when the charge of racism is leveled in the absence of evidence, or contrary to most or even all of the relevant and available evidence, the smear accomplishes none of those things. It reveals something else, something very different: the baseless charge of racism reveals that the person making the smear is simply a vicious, disgusting liar.
At the moment, it appears to me that this strategy on the part of the Obama campaign -- that is, the attempt to intimidate, shut down and shut up any and all critics with various charges of racism -- has been badly overplayed and is quickly losing any effectiveness it might have had. This in turn creates a further problem for the Obama campaign, which I also discussed in an Update to the previous essay:
To head off a standard line of criticism of posts of this kind, I should note that, of course, there are those Americans who are genuinely racist, and who will never vote for a Black president. I've mentioned before that I think there are quite a lot of them, certainly more than will admit to it, and that such Americans may even be determinative in this election.

Those who attack me and others who try to tell the truth about Obama and what his policies are in fact and what he stands for, and who attack us by calling us racists when there is no evidence at all to support the charge and a huge amount of evidence demonstrating the opposite, might consider how they dilute the charge by wasting it on targets that do not merit it. To the degree these smearers are concerned with the truth (which, I grant, can only be measured on the subatomic scale), they are only making their efforts to elect Obama that much less likely to succeed. When enough people understand that the charge of racism is frequently directed at people who are obviously not racists, and when they further understand that the charge is employed only to end all serious examination of Obama, they will cease to believe the charge at all -- even when it is directed at people who are racists.
As discussed in my many essays about the evil of racism and the enormously complex ways in which racism is woven into American politics and culture, one can often feel that one has fallen into a nightmare house of mirrors when analyzing this subject. Lies are piled on lies, and the truth becomes almost impossible to determine. In this dauntingly complicated context, Obama's deployment of widespread charges of racism against his critics has run into another problem, one of Obama's own creation.

Obama began his campaign by proclaiming the "transcendent" nature of his candidacy, and by portraying himself as a "post-racial" candidate. Obama has announced that the problems of racial equality are 90% solved and, as I have written: "Obama says that black Americans have nothing to be shocked or indignant about themselves any longer. Perhaps black Americans are entitled to be angry about the past, but they shouldn't be too angry. Yes, terrible injustices were committed, but that's all behind us now. Now, we can comfortably move into a 'post-racial' future..." Yet simultaneously, Obama and his surrogates and defenders tell us that racism remains so widespread that it has infected most of his critics to a degree so alarming that they may not vote for him! This is a ludicrously dishonest contradiction that deserved to die an early death, and it seems it may be doing just that. (You will find that excerpt in this earlier essay, toward the end, and the Update offers further discussion on this point.)

And now Biden is Obama's running mate -- Biden of the Thurmond eulogy, Biden of the racist comments, including racist comments directed at Obama himself, Biden the great drug warrior, when the vicious "War on Drugs" has hugely, completely indefensible destructive effects on Black Americans in particular. And Obama is going to accuse his critics of being racists? Not convincingly, he isn't, not now.

There is still another reason why the selection of Biden is remarkably terrible news. All accounts suggest that one of Biden's major selling points as Vice Presidential candidate (to the Obama camp, at any rate) is his supposed foreign policy expertise. Biden is unquestionably a foreign policy "expert," if by that one means that he represents the complete embodiment of the views of the foreign policy establishment. I remind you that the foreign policy establishment is committed to American global hegemony, to be achieved by military domination of the world and by overthrow, covert operations, war and occupation as required. And Joe Biden is certainly a bloodthirsty enthusiast for this program: there is no intervention, no bombing campaign, no foreign incursion that he doesn't love. If you were looking for "change" in this arena, and if you hoped for peace, well, you're just out of luck, my friend. If you thought fundamental change in foreign policy was possible with an Obama presidency, and if I were ruder (but still honest), I would say you were a fool. Obama has already told us that he fully supports a notably aggressive interventionist foreign policy, as discussed in "Songs of Death."

But I have more to say on that subject, and about Biden in this connection, and I will do so in another installment of this series.