Politics And Press: The Presidential Sweepstakes

Posted October 18, 2012 on 12:02 am | In the category Election, Obama, Romney, Uncategorized | by Jeff
  • To vote for a Democrat means, now, to vote for the party’s influential members—for unions (including public unions of teachers, firemen, and policemen), for black and Latino minorities, for independent women….To vote for a Republican means, now, to vote for a plutocracy that depends for its support on anti-government forces like the tea party, Southern racists, religious fanatics, and war investors in the military-industrial complex. The independents, too ignorant or inexperienced …are the people most susceptible to lying flattery. They are called the good folk too inner-directed to follow a party line or run with the herd. They are like the idealistic imperialists “with clean hands” in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American—they should wear leper bells to warn people of their vicinity—Gary Wills, New York Review of Books

We have been subjected to a political campaign for the presidency that began nearly four years ago, moved into high gear over a year ago, presented a cast of shockingly bizarre Republican characters, and finally settled into a two man race that the American press has managed to define as a horse race to be covered as a sporting event of style over substance.

No day goes by without one or more new polls that tell us who is viewed most favorably among any number of subgroups: women voters, unmarried men, gays and lesbians, hispanics, white males, retirees, firemen, catholics, protestants, etc. etc. Candidates then try to tailor their heartfelt views to the identified interests of enough of the various subgroups to build a winning majority.. And by tailor, I mean, cut to size, redesign, change the entire look and feel – as various focus groups indicate. Mitt Romney’s constant and dramatic changes of expressed beliefs and values are an extreme example but Obama’s caution is also illustrative.

The press serves as the testing ground for policy changes by simply reporting them and then collecting data on whether the changes are liked or disliked by a largely unaware public. The press does this partially by collecting opinions from man-and/or-woman in the street interviews – a technique whose cost is only dwarfed by its innate absurdity. Of particular interest are those who after years of political jockeying have not quite been able to make up their mind. I mean, what does it take to get someone to decide? the world is not changing that fast, the candidates are only pretending to change, and yet these proud independents – unable to commit to any political belief or philosophy – wait for the magic moment – the epiphany – when they can decide between candidates representing radically different value systems and turn the election in whatever direction enters their sweet little heads.

Finally, to help them decide, the press provides analysts – almost always one from each side to discuss the issues in serious and quasi intellectual terms, but each reading from his or her internal Power Point presentation provided by their candidates. PBS’s Newshour has become especially proficient at this, cowering in its insecurities while it gives favor to each side hoping against hope that it will not be caught actually taking the side of rational thought, thereby perhaps risking its federal funding. The fact that they have become irrelevant, boring, tedious even – no longer matters. There is really no competition out there unless one turns to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who in their own wacky way, move toward the truth. Colbert would say to independents, “flip a damned coin and get over it.”

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Richard Ford writes the great American novel – and calls it “Canada”.

Posted October 8, 2012 on 3:56 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

John Updike has passed on, Philip Roth has passed his peak, and like  Updike, will  not win the Nobel Prize, Toni Morrison, who did win it quite a long time ago, and Joyce Carol Oates have been productive but have long since levelled out on  a somewhat predictable plateau. So who will take on the mantel of the leading US novelist?   I’ll tell you who. It is Richard Ford, whose latest novel shows all the marks of a writer who learned his trade very well at the feet of masters and continued to improve and now in his mid sixties has really hit his stride with a novel that should remind readers of great works  like The Sound and the Fury by that splendid  fellow southerner William Faulkner – whom Ford met as a young man in Mississippi – or So Long, See You Tomorrow by the vastly underrated William Maxwell.  Richard Ford, born in 1945 in Jackson, Mississippi, has gradually pushed his imagination north, setting a couple of  his excellent earlier novels in places like Great Falls, Montana or central New York, and now, he has written what is  arguably the best American novel of the last decades, and titled it, against the wishes of his US publishers, “Canada”.  The publishers told him that this title was “a death knell for a book”, but Ford wouldn’t be pushed around, stood his ground on the title, and has seen his stubbornness more than vindicated with regard to both sales and reviews.

The leading US and European reviews have  been superlative, and the PBS interview is much to be recommended, but their focus has been  almost entirely on the extraordinary quality of the often meditative writing in the framework of a tale full of sound and fury. This novel  explores the relationship between memory and long-ago events yet  throughout catches the reader’s attention with an action story involving extraordinary and  dangerous life choices that is presented  through the recollections of  a terrific 60-year old writer looking back at his teenage years.  And what splendid writing it is; is there anyone else out there now who can write like this? And yet, overlooked by  -and perhaps incomprehensible to – the US reviewers is the title, which Ford comments on at length in the PBS interview.  Ford has spent a lot of time in Canada, and has said how much he likes being there  and his description, in the second half of this novel, of the journey across an almost unmarked border – of course that is no longer the case – separating Montana from the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan – is simply convincing.  Dell, the teenager in desperate trouble not of his own making, enters a world so different from the one he leaves that it sometimes almost seems like he is in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale (perhaops that of the Snow Queen).  The author is neither judgmental nor prejudicial in his description of both sides of the border.  It all  just simply seems to be true, in things as different as language, landscape description, and customs.  If it is a fairy tale, there is a dark edge to both worlds portrayed, but, as Ford says in the PBS interview, he is very fond of Canada and believes that in his story  Dell is given the gift of the possibility of redemption and  consolation when he is kidnapped and taken off  to the nearby but unknown land of Saskatchewan.  This is a great novel on its own, but it is also the defining work that, almost in passing, catches the different ways in which life is now lived in the second and third largest countries in the world that used to share the world’s longest unguarded border, but no longer do.  Ford now lives in Maine.  He’s moving in.

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