Friday, February 1, 2008

dictatorship of civility

At least 70 percent of primary election coverage consists of commentary on the level of "civility" of the campaigns. If one candidate makes a mild critique of another, the campaign is getting "dirty" or "rough and tumble." One gets the perception that the public can hardly stand candidates making anything but veiled statements. A candidate who does not preface his or her statements with the stock phrase, "I respect so and so highly but I just want to say that I would do such and such." Without this thick padding, the candidate is liable to be viewed as absolutely barbaric. One cannot risk saying, "So and so takes too much money from industry." Or rather, one can, but one will quickly be eased out of the spotlight. Witness John Edwards' treatment at the hands of media and voters. I think many voters long for clear statements, but not so clear and unequivocal that they ruin the nice haze of fantasy and day-dreaming and hero worship.

I for one am not threatened by direct statements of principle. I am not afraid of a leader who does not constantly assure me he is nicer than a choir boy or as friendly as my waiter. I can handle it. But so many people can't. To such people, the horrors of war unleashed on other people are far preferable, and much more tolerable, than a candidate who displays a hint of anger. God forbid someone express human emotions! Better far to let millions die somewhere else. We like our leaders nicely muzzled, tamed, useless. And then we get mad when they do nothing but lie to us. We don't like the truth. Seduce us, we say to them. Hence the glee in the media about the way Obama and Clinton "practically embraced," "whispering in each others' ears" after their most recent debate in California. Why is this a good thing? Are we electing saints? Or homecoming royalty? Or leaders?

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