Thursday, November 6, 2008

Uneasy Lies the Head

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

Julius Caesar

1. As I consider the myriad "horse races" of the election season, it's easy to see Obama as a political version of Secretariat, running away from the pack at Belmont (the charming video of that race, easily found on Youtube, features the awestruck announcer famously proclaiming the great equine "a tremendous machine!" as he comes down the stretch).
2. Overshadowed by all the other election hubbub was the vote by the state of Washington to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill (joining Oregon, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland). As a psychiatrist who fervently values dignity and self-determination but who is all too aware of the distorting influences of even subtle depression, I have always found this a particularly tough issue to make up my own mind about. It is similar to my ambivalence about capital punishment; to point out the obvious, the very irrevocability of death casts a pall over even the strongest sense of the right. If it is possible to quote this in a broadly secular sense, the words of Oliver Cromwell come to mind: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."
3. Speaking of the "bowels of Christ" (and Cromwellian insurgencies), Kay Hagan usurped Elizabeth Dole's North Carolina Senate seat despite Dole's immediately notorious campaign ad trying to smear Hagan's alleged association with the "Godless Americans" PAC. A Hagan-sounding voice at the end of the absurd spot cried out, hysterically, "There is no God!" The apparently devout Hagan objected vehemently to the misrepresentation of her piety, but nowhere around here did I come across any umbrage over the deeper implication, that to be "Godless" (it sounds even worse than "atheist") is in itself to be on a par with pedophiles or terrorists. I truly think that a woman, and then eventually a homosexual, will be elected President before an openly atheistic person could be considered.
4. I've always wanted to visit Alaska: so much space, so few people, the incredible terrain. The more I hear about Governor Sarah Palin and convicted felon Senator Ted Stevens, the more curious I become. In a collective expression of "up yours!" Stevens was apparently just voted back to Washington by the good people of Alaska, although that required a state-wide vote of only about 106,000 people (Obama could get that every time he held a rally). Nothing is more ironic than Palin touting the virtues of "real Americans." When I think of the latter, Anchorage doesn't, somehow, come immediately to mind. No, I still want to visit Alaska some day precisely because it is the Other in so many respects.
5. The other day I revisited Obama's vaunted 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. It was as great as I remembered, but I was struck by how very young he looked then. In current appearances he looks, to my eyes, ten years older; hopefully some of that is a transient effect of fatigue. The man is going to have to be strong. He is the first "celebrity" President since JFK, but that is a much more life-consuming role now than it ever was. Except for the occasional jaunt to Camp David or whatever, a celebrity President, unlike your regular celebrity, can't take refuge in eccentric isolation or furtive trips to rehab. Think of what happened to Bob Dylan when he felt the weight of a generation's hopes (okay, later he still managed Blood on the Tracks and Desire, not bad). To be sure, Bush got away to Crawford a great deal, but I don't think many noticed he was gone.
6. If one word could capture my association of Obama and our politics it would have to be intellectual and political class, not in the economic sense but in the sense of subtlety (without vacillation), self-respect (without smugness), and sophistication (without supercilious elitism). Mistakes will be made, but one hopes they will be earnest ones, rather than the boorish ones of the past eight years.
7. If anyone is Obama's Presidential "father" it is Hillary Clinton. The year-long inferno of the primary race singed off any weak or superfluous parts and completed his transformation into the ueber-politician (in the best sense of the word). If he were like most of us, he would, knowing how very much he owes her (and the dream of hers that was consumed in the same blaze), avoid her like the plague. I was afraid he might select her as running-mate just to show himself and the world that he is not like that. Fortunately he was so much not like that he could forgo advertising the fact, and instead could pursue his primary ambition. Similarly, he was merely being himself when he felt able to take the time to visit his dying grandmother without making a political issue of it. Like most geniuses, he supersedes distractions, including, and most importantly, psychological ones.
(The program is acting up and won't allow proper spacing, which is driving me crazy. All I can think of on short notice is to use some bold type for contrast--sorry).


vanderleun said...

Why, yes, let us all have the earnest wars and idealistic "mistakes" of the Obama rather than the boorish ones of the past.

Pip, pip, what?

Anonymous said...

They're all waiting at the sidelines scrawling placards with blood from their wounds - 'I told you so...'

At the first sign/mistake they'll whip them out in a congealed frenzy; but we won't be able to read them because of the glare.

Anonymous said...

[Sigh] You let a Republican in. Now we'll all get fleas.

Novalis said...

(Sigh) The perils of self-publication--can't a guy engage in a little hero-worship in peace? I'll say it for you: Mao was pretty earnest as well.

Growing up in the age of Reagan, I did at least have respect for the Republican party, which did seem to hold real ideals that they tried to live up to (even if those ideals were often out of step with my values).

In my opinion, the Republican regime over the past eight years has embodied no values beyond its own self-perpetuation (now they have failed at that too). You know, might makes right, Plato's Thrasymachus.

I know I'm setting up "my" man for a fall. But I'd rather have the bar held too high than...have Lucy snatch the football away every time.

Anonymous said...

Novalis, I have never see you giddy before! The closest up to know is when you read Flannery O'Connor or Nathanael West haha.
Seriously though, what has your hero DONE to warrant such effusive praise? I know what he has SAID and HOW he has said it that garnered your worship. However, it seems to me that all of this is merely the cult of personality revisisted. I would like to direct you to an opinion piece published in USA Today on 8/5/08 by Jonah Goldberg. We are good friends with a lot in common but I feel just the opposite of you about your hero:he scares me to death.
Yours truly,
Ab Snopes

Novalis said...

Oh, "Mr. Snopes," your poor children--do you delight in popping their bubbles as soon as they blow them?

Will check out Goldberg article...wheels turning...full rebuttal pending...

Anonymous said...

Dear Novalis, I just hate to see you in the throes of delusions (whether the delusion is that there is no God, there are better bands than Rush or better writers than my Master Faulkner.hehe)
Ab Snopes

John J. Coupal said...

"Mistakes will be made, but one hopes they will be earnest ones, rather than the boorish ones of the past eight years".

Obama's first press conference at 3 days post-election, and he manages to be boorish toward First Lady Nancy Reagan in it. Fortunately, he apologized in person immediately to Mrs. Reagan after the fact for what he had said.

Are we in for 4 more years of such disrespectful boorish behavior?

Novalis said...

I must admit that was surprising and disappointing--taking pot shots at ex-first ladies is never politically helpful. All that the parent in me can come up with is: At least he said he was sorry.