Meet The Stress:The Politics of Nostalgia
This article belongs to Necessary Roughness column.
Before people were fainting at Barack Obama rallies, I was sent to Springfield, Illinois to cover the announcement of his candidacy on a bone-chilling February morning. Pains than come with sub-zero temperatures were replaced by chills of hope as Obama made promises in the same space where Lincoln once stood.
Being there on that day, in that moment, changed things for me. That was over a year ago. I have been AWOL ever since. Maybe it was waking up in my Jeep at a roadside rest, still feeling exhausted from the trip's long hours that put me in some strange trance.
Or maybe it was the horrible flashbacks from the disastrous 2004 election. But whatever the true cause of my absence from the blogosphere was, it is crucial that my editor knows that the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
The last 13 months have been a blur. I can vaguely remember back to the morning after Obama's announcement. I was laying in a Chicago hotel room thinking that it is extremely difficult to concentrate on Sunday morning political analysts when the people in the room next to you are engaging in loud, ferocious, wall-rattling sex.
Not that intense shouts of satisfaction could distract me from the aggressive journalism of Tim Russert, but politics and sex don't mix well on a cold Sunday morning. It was at that point that I decided to skip the next Obama rally and leave Chicago immediately. Although my hotel neighbors were an odd distraction, I don't think they are the reason for my hiatus from this column either.
However, because my brain has been battered and deep fried in the intensity of presidential politics, I can offer no valid explanation for my alleged retirement. But after hours and hours of absorbing interviews, columns, discussions, and liters of Ketel One, I have come to the conclusion that our country may be absolutely fucked. So I must comment on our downward trajectory.
I may be off on a few of the details, but this is how I remember the last year or so. I'm pretty sure that things seemed great at first for the Democrats. There were promising candidates. The stages were a bit crowded for effective debates, but overall there was a vibe of inevitable victory flowing through the TV screen. Then, of course, there was much to say about one candidate's expensive haircut. And forgetting that a white guy from Arkansas was our first "black" president, some people suggested that we are not ready for an African American to call the shots. Still, some people suggested that Senator Obama was not "black" enough. This phase ended as the Obama camp scrambled to find a device that could measure their candidate's level of blackness.
It was assumed by many that he passed with flying colors. Meanwhile, Obama's rival was up against a fascinating group of open-minded folks. This party formed based on their disliking of Hillary Clinton. And although these people still offer no specific reason for their hatred of Clinton, they are as patriotic and passionate as ever. Some of them are Republicans, some are independents, and some--gulp--are Democrats.
But Hillary silenced these folks with her continuous insistence on being ready on "day one." Then the mud slinging started. And then it evolved into a full-fledged bare-knuckle boxing match. Candidates started dropping their campaigns like 11th grade chemistry. The identity crisis formerly known as the Democratic Party began to see that there was a touch of irony in the Obama phenomenon: his campaign of national unification has withstood a primary season hat has been utterly divisive. Not that the Dems are the only party facing mass confusion.
The Republicans spent a year deciding that they could not nominate a Mormon, an actor, a divorced pro-choicer, or, thankfully, a Baptist minister. Walking away from all of this is the man who the G.O.P. screwed in 2000: Senator John McCain. Apparently he has been so busy kissing Republican ass that he forgot that he was a rebellious "Maverick." Politics seemed to calm down a bit when autumn arrived. But for the second time in four years the Red Sox won the World Series.
Although I was quite happy about this, I can't help but confess that as the team completed their sweeping of the Rockies and sprayed themselves with the bubbly, I felt a moment of mixed emotions. I mention this because earlier in the season when the Sox were playing the New York Yankees, in an Orwellian sort of way, I looked back and forth from the Yankees to the Sox and could not tell which was which. Still, I will gladly accept the championship.
More time passed and no explosions or homophobic issues to scare the American voters. Although I do find a great deal of harm in the politics of fear, the core of America's problem is its fear of politics. We don't trust people who claim they want to help us. Should we? I'm trying to find out. But despite all the negativity spreading like herpes on a college campus, I perceive an intense hunger for politics throughout America. However, this hunger, at times, seems nostalgia-based. Reaganites long for the Cosby-esque mid-1980's, and Clintonistas can't help but recall the perfection of the Saturday Night Live casts of the mid-90's.
When it comes to evaluating our political leaders, we tend to associate competent executive leadership with our overall happiness, regardless of what made this "happiness" seem authentic. Ultimately, popular culture contributes to our supposed emotional stability. But now that the Rocky/Rambo series has (hopefully) ended and Friends is off the air, I would rather move on from the last two decades and try to salvage what is left of this one. The Democratic National Convention is only six short months away. There won't be an incestuous carnival of self-congratulating parasites this big until next year's Academy Awards. But seeing how I'm back from the dead, and my new found desire for the open road now back in full swing, I would gladly attend both, with permission from my editor, of course.
Now, I must confess that despite my born-again desire to take swipes at phonies, I can't help but feel myself sipping on a cocktail mixed with some hypocrisy. I commented on the dangers of voting out of nostalgia, but in a way, I, too, am guilty of feeling nostalgia for a decade that I have only read about.
However, when people speak of the changes Bobby Kennedy could have made, I feel that this notoriously repeated "urgency" factor is real. Forty years ago people felt enthused with hope, and I guess I feel that same emotion today. Yes, some were turned off by that tumultuous decade. But some stood up, and some fought hard for what was right.
They fought for things they thought could be possible. And without them, this election wouldn't be possible. It is unfortunate that this historic election is being overshadowed by divisive rhetoric and beaurocratic technicalities.
Will hope and optimism save the day? The inevitable conclusion is this: there will be an answer. I hope we let it be. While recovering from this recent phase of hibernation, I have been trying to teach high school sophomores subject-verb agreement. They do not believe me when I tell them that the word politics is singular. But whether it is singular, plural, hopeful, or nostalgic, one thing is certain: as the Ides of March approaches us, it is in the air.