My morning scan of social media channels reveals an interesting, and appropriate, confluence of post-Halloween Tweets and pre-election trepidations: cute kids and scary rightists. I have a backlog of reviews ready to go, but right now I’m more interested in tracking how the 2010 elections play out in some unexpected or unusual ways.
Walter Benjamin once tried to characterize the base/superstructure relation as the effects of an upset stomach on the mind. He never expanded on this idea, most likely because it wasn’t one of his best. Yet, the metaphor seems oddly fitting for this moment in time. I think nausea is an excellent term to describe what’s going on right now. There’s a great deal of uneasiness and inchoate dread in the people that I know, and the election discourse, it seems to me, is merely the most convenient means to articulate that nausea. For all the poisonous attacks on Obama shooting around the Internet, the president has slightly higher approval ratings than Ronald Reagan did at this point in his presidency. How deep is the resentment against the US government? How many people really believe we’re on the slippery slope to socialism? How many people know what socialism actually is?
Nausea is also how Jean-Paul Sartre described the confrontation with freedom. The don’t tread on me portion of the electorate would have us believe that freedom is the main issue for this election. I would be more convinced if the G.O.P. wasn’t so obviously trying to turn the Tea Party into a stalking horse for the Republicans’ return to power.
There will be rationalizations about the results of the 2010 elections on Wednesday. But I doubt anything important will be resolved. I predict that on the morning after we will feel like Sartre’s hero Roquentin feels:
I can’t say I feel relieved or satisfied; just the opposite, I am crushed. Only my goal is reached: I know what I wanted to know; I have understood all that has happened to me since January. The Nausea has not left me and I don’t believe it will leave me so soon; but I no longer have to bear it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is I.
So keep checking back here over the next 36 hours or so as I look for how our national indigestion, the irresolvable dread that begins in the gut, manifests itself in our discourse.
Note: All times Central Daylight Time, i.e., Chicago time.
11:24 AM: The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel endorses the Working Families Party, a sort of pet project of the magazine. The WFP is one of those single issue parties common in parliamentary systems but familiar in the U.S. as jokes, as in the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. For some reason, New York is a hotbed for these types of parties. The WFP’s crusade for the 2010 election: paid sick days for New Yorkers.
12:22 PM: When the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada store opened in New York City in December 2001, it was widely derided as a symbol of consumerist excess. Today the New York Times visits another, very different fashion store: the new H&M store on the Champs-Élysées. This time louche Italian chic is replaced by Swedish sensibility. I’ve never heard of Alber Elbaz, but he doesn’t seem to be the type of designer who ordinarily goes for H&M’s brand of “fast fashion.” “I feel that the world is changing,” he sighs. Yes, it is, but in confusing ways. In 2001 conspicuous consumption was bad. Now frugality is. As Paul Krugman points out, “one person’s debt is another person’s asset.” Despite what moralizing conservatives say, only spending will get the world out of its economic slump.
12: 51 PM: Another opportunity for virtue with unintended negative consequences: Today is World Vegan Day. Sign up for a stint as a vegan and “vote with my knife and fork against animal cruelty, environmental destruction and world hunger.” And then close down the Five Guys restaurant that just opened down the street from my office in Evanston and put all 11 people behind the counter out of work. Plus, there’s the whole eating vegan thing, which I couldn’t stomach.
1:25 PM Just finished my first Five Guys burger. It was big. Now I don’t have to eat for the rest of the week. You’d think that with 11 people preparing food, the service would be faster. While waiting I had to listen to “Layla,” a song I liked until today. What is it about grease and classic rock? Maybe the vegans are onto something.
While munching on an enormous cheeseburger, I got an email from Barack Obama urging me to vote for Alexi Giannoulias for Senate and Pat Quinn for governor. I’m okay with Giannoulias, although I wish Forrest Claypool were running for Obama’s old Senate seat instead. As for Pat Quinn, well, my best hope is that he stays out of jail. That’s where we are in Illinois.
2:51 PM: First there were the Soccer Moms (“If Simone de Beauvoir were alive today, I’m certain she’d drive a Dodge Caravan, too!”). Then there were the Security Moms (“No weapons of mass destruction in my house! Not today!”). This election there are the Tired Moms (“Oh, fuck it!”). At least that’s what the Wall Street Journal reports. Women are just too worn down by the recession’s effects on family finances to care about voting, although, as every other page in the WSJ attests, men have been charged up by watching billions of dollars vanish from the national economy. Anyway, MomsRising.org is taking issue with the WSJ report. It wants to awaken “the inner voter of moms across the nation” and encourage women to vote in “an election year that is extremely important to families!” I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be as condescending as it sounds.
3:53 PM: Judith Warner points out that you don’t actually have to be a mother to be a mom in political terms. “Being a mom is synonymous with being one of the people,” she writes. “No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve lived or how much money you’ve made, if you’re a mom, you are simple; you are decent; you are real.” Moms care about a sick child, not health care policy, which is the domain of men and Hillary Clinton. In this definition, Nancy Pilosi, a grandmother, isn’t a mom, while Christine O’Donnell, who doesn’t have a job let along offspring, is a “mama grizzly.” So much for the old feminist objection that a woman isn’t her womb. Motherhood has been remystified and abstracted out from the material conditions of giving birth and caring for children. Mama Grizzly is married to Patio Man, forming the archetypal family unit at the mythical center of American politics. The problem isn’t that this center doesn’t exist–and it doesn’t. The problem is that this archetype has been constructed to prevent any governmental action that would help existing American men, women, and children.
Now we’re at the point at which campaign messages reach the point of absolute redundancy. The candidates are just filling up time, getting their message out because they can’t stop yet. During this period the press observes the candidates objectively, like bugs. Then tomorrow morning, spot reporting about voter turnout and sentiment, all of it meaningless. Throughout the day, the data will accumulate. Media outlets will withhold it, processing it. Then as the polls close, the data will be released, and the rationalizations will commence.