Thursday, September 4, 2008

Romanticism and Running Mates

Notice that this is not titled "Romance and Running Mates," but the notions are related obviously. I just finished rereading Penelope Fitzgerald's wonderful 1995 novel The Blue Flower, the historically based story of the German poet Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenburg (yes, Novalis). The heart of the story is Novalis's "love at first sight" for young Sophie (she was just 12 when they first met), a child who, in the eyes of all of his family and friends, is dull, undistinguished, and totally unworthy of him. But until her crushing death from tuberculosis three years later, he maintains that he sees something in her that no one else can, and he calls her "my Philosophy."

Arguably there are two basic approaches to love, and in most cases of course they are combined in some measure. One is Novalis's utterly subjective, "in the eye of the beholder" kind of attraction that seems based on some kind of unconscious affinity (which in other eras and places might be called metaphysical or transcendent). The other might be formulated as the theory, in which one approaches a potential mate much as one might hire an employee (or seek an employer?), with a no-nonsense eye toward the prospective correspondence between mutual needs, skills, and attributes. The former is Romantic and visionary, the latter Classical and pragmatic.

I make no claim to know what was going on with the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, but the pick was both impulsive and visionary, depending upon the bias of the commentator. While she obviously had to meet minimal political standards, her specific credentials were less important than a visceral affinity McCain likely felt with Palin, a kinship that he hoped would be shared by others. In the week since she was introduced, the political air has been thick with nothing less than Eros--as could be said of both John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, she is the politician who is young and compelling enough to inspire other than purely patriarchal or matriarchal impressions. In this age of raw sexual reductiveness, it is interesting to observe a public pull of Eros without the all too frequent pull of pornography (vice-presidential vetting question: Does anyone anywhere have nude pictures of you?). Like Reagan, she is the Republicans' "blue flower," or at least the closest to it that can be found outside of the imagination. (I still prefer that she lose however).

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