Saturday, May 24, 2008

We all remember

The rhetoric of American political campaigns, both from the candidates and the media, pretends to be tough and incisive. But it only dekes toward issues before ducking into hysteria. It exaggerates every utterance in whatever way it might be most negatively construed. My blog-buddy Winston Smith at Philosoraptor aptly calls this practice radically uncharitable interpretation.

Obama says it's worth talking to Iran, and blood and guts McCain fakes outrage, pretending that Obama said he'd happily take one of Iran's future nukes up the butt if that would start negotiations. If Americans at large had their bullshit detectors turned on, they would see this for what it is and chalk up the bullshit against its purveyor. Instead, we appear to prefer being lied to. And McCain locks himself into policy that has no alternative to violence.

Yesterday, Hillary made her now-infamous remark about RFK's assassination. People with an ax to grind or conventional wisdom to sell leapt to insinuate that she meant in her heart of hearts that, hey, she could still get lucky the way Hubert Humphrey did in 1968 if only James Earl Lee Harvey Sirhan would just do her a favor.

I think she was trying only to paint as precedented her time frame for accepting loss of the nomination. "We all remember ...," she started. She was using Bobby Kennedy's death as a memory aid, as a teacher or any speaker might find a touchstone. Her error was to use such a large fact to make such a prosaic argument. The fact's horror overwhelmed the mnemonic.

Mere mention of assassination does provoke our fears, mine anyway. Obama could be the sort of transformational figure that JFK, MLK, and RFK threatened to be before each in turn was gunned down. What would the 1960s have achieved had all three survived the decade?

There are thousands of Confederate throwbacks in this country who might take up arms against a renewal of that transformation, arms that they already own. James Earl Ray, Byron De La Beckwith, and the Philadelphia, Miss., KKK of 1964 are gone, but their hate-filled racist inheritors are still here. They have not failed to notice that Obama is a black man with a real chance to be President.

There are also thousands more Mark Chapmans, Arthur Bremers, and John Hinckleys - crippled little narcissists who kill for attention, who might again snatch chaos and defeat from the jaws of victory.

We all remember. Don't we?

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