Sunday, November 04, 2007

Politics, as Usual (Or, What I'm Doing With My Sunday Morning To Take My Mind Off The Cigarettes I Really Want to be Smoking Right Now)

Yeah, so I quit last week with the help of Chantix. It's at once easier and harder than I thought it would be. Harder in the abstract (unless I'm actively reading something that really interests me, cigarettes are basically all I've been thinking about for the past week), easier in practice (when I'm hanging out with smokers, I have no problem declining a smoke--this is because Chantix works by blocking the pleasure-receptors in the brain that nicotine hooks on to. Basically, smoking right now gives me absolutely no pleasure or rush. It's just mechanical--inhaling smoke and blowing it out, which, when you get right down to it, is a gross waste of time, no? But don't get me wrong. I'm incredibly annoyed at this drug for working.) So, I'm going to write a little about politics right now, something I've been avoiding since moving to Iowa; the air has bascially been thick with it since last spring. The Eastern Iowa Gazette, where I had my brief but wonderful obituary-writing stint this summer, had a huge front page story last week headlined (I'm paraphrasing) "Okay, Everyone Is Really Sick of Politics Right Now."

I don't know what the campaigns are like in the rest of the country (or even in the rest of Iowa--there seem to be a lot of Ron Paul supporters in Des Moines. WTF, Des Moines?) but blue Johnson County is and has been for awhile, in the grips of campaign madness, mostly of the Democrats variety. And though John Edwards seems to be around all the time (here again on Monday to talk about foreign policy) the race locally and nationally is undoubtedly Clinton v. Obama. In fact, with our human love of binary opposites, I really could not envision the race for the Dem. candidate to boil down to any but these two. They are, of course, superfically opposites: a black man, a white woman; an urban community organizer, a wealthy suburban commuter. And certainly of all the Dem. candidates, they have already become iconic--more than the sum of their political parts in the public eye. I would venture to say that even Giuliani, the most iconic of the Rep. candidates, does not have the cult-of-personality pull of these two. Even in the politcally irrelevent University of Iowa homecoming parade, the Clinton and Obama parade blocks were the largest and most vocal.

But back to binaries: Clinton and Obama have risen to this status perhaps precisely because they've had each other to play off and answer to in debates. While they are surface opposites, they are also ideological opposites (or at least that's what the media would have us believe, and because it's the media asking the questions and writing the stories, this opposition is what's come to pass--certainly Obama and Clinton have similar opinions about most political issues, compared to, say, either one of them vs. Kucinich). In the NYTimes Magazine today, there is an interesting article, written mostly from the Obama side, that supports the simplification of these ideological differences and comes up with this:

Clinton = old school
Obama = new school
Clinton = cynicism
Obama = idealism
Clinton = experience
Obama = inexperience
and, perhaps the simplest of all:
Clinton = fear
Obama = hope.

I mean HOPE is literally one of Obama's campaign posters. But fear...fear rings of Bush and Cheyney. Is Clinton riding our post-9/11 fear? I don't think so. The NYT Mag article points out that she answers questions about war and terrorism in the ways that you'd expect most seasoned campaigning politicians to: with acceptable test-driven rhetoric and careful fence-sitting. Obama, however, is exciting because he dares to say Yes and No. No, I wouldn't use nuclear weapons on Pakistan. Yes, I would meet with leaders of unfriendly nations in the first year of my presidency.

Anyway, I'm rambling (too much coffee this morning) and probably stating the obvious (as I try to keep my fingers typing to distract me from pulling a smoke from the pack a neighbor left sitting on our porch last night) but I really think what this race for the Dem. contender will come down to is not whether people would rather vote for a white woman or a black man, but whether people will vote for someone who is saying the reassuring politician-type things they've been hearing all their lives, or take a chance on someone who seems to have a different outlook. I don't want to overstate this or make it sound so dramatic, but it will, ultimately, be a race about the ideological future of this country, possibly for generations to come. With civilians making no sacrifices during the Iraq War, we're never going to see an organized effort to influence the government through protest or grass roots organizing--there just isn't an incentive for most people, sad as that is to say. Therefore, unfortunately, a change in foreign and domestic policy will have to come from the top, and will only happen if someone is elected who has no stake in the old wars, isn't tied to old financial scandals and lobbies contrary to their stated political beliefs, someone whose "inexperience" may be the only hope for a nation that seems to be slipping day-by-day into an economic and diplomatic abyss.

So anyway, I guess you know who I'm voting for now in the caucuses. Read that NYT article! It's good.


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