Sunday, 2 September 2012

Kabuki, Act I

Who can fail to be dumbfounded at the idea that millions of people in possession of their rational faculties could rush to the voting booths and declare, Yes! Please impoverish me and turn over all my resources to rich people! Yet as demonstrated by the bizarre, insular pep rally just concluded in Tampa, that is exactly what we will witness in two short months.

However, this disconcerting spectacle of a massive auto-eliminatory impulse ravishing our bipedal brethren is merely a screen saver, a preliminary warm-up act. It has the same effect as the regular announcement by the New York subway bosses that fares will go up a dollar in six months. After the expected hue and cry, they settle on a rise of ‘only’ 50 cents, and we’re all relieved.

Given the stupefyingly bland sloganeering masquerading as a political program, the most interesting aspect of the GOP event is what was not said. In fact, doddering old Clint Eastwood merits perverse applause for going off-script long enough to say ‘Guantánamo’ and ‘Afghanistan’, two words studiously avoided by both major parties. How about that? You’d think that the country’s war-making activities and its criminal justice procedures might merit a lively debate once every four years, but in fact the establishment consensus is overwhelming on both. I’m reminded of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin’s gentlemanly agreement to say nothing about same-sex marriage in 2008 since the Republican position was crystal clear, and the Democrats had no intention of giving their gay constituency anything. Next question!

Robotic Milt and Scary Paul play the same role for the beleaguered voters here that Pinochet did for the first Chilean elected government after the 17 years of dictatorship—to scare people into obedience. I’ll never forget the Christian Democratic operative telling a film crew I worked for that Pinochet, who remained as commander-in-chief of the armed forces after being ousted as president, was like a caged lion (his metaphor) that the circus-masters, i.e., his party, could take out periodically and parade around. The crowds would shrink back from its roars and were then easy to boss around.

Romney and Ryan state openly that it’s time to dismantle the New Deal; Obama dissembles in mock horror but prepares to do so. The raw-meat-eaters in Tampa blindly cheer the military-security complex; Obama has their back and forgives their crimes. Republicans gloat when judges approve execution of criminals; Obamaissues the kill orders himself.

Are there differences between the two parties and between a Republican and Democratic administration? Of course there are, important ones. There were also differences between the Emperors Augustus and his relative Caligula, and anyone living through both would have had a clear preference. But neither reign did anything to preserve the republic or prevent the Roman descent into autocracy and barbarism.

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