Monday, September 29, 2008

Bush is… Obama is not…?

While I have been a distant observer of all things Bush for the last five years, having lived in Taiwan during that time, I have noticed one theme in particular. Bush is criticized by his many critics (fittingly) for being a talking suit of his party, an elite son of big money. He is also criticized for his lack of adequate prior political experience. He is just a glorified good ol' boy who was given the election by the Powers That Be.

Now, what has struck me in the past few months of presidential campaigning is how both candidates seem to embody, for their detractors, various aspects of "the Bush problem". McCain, for instance, is criticized as being too wealthy, and thus, implicitly, removed from the realities of the average American. It is ironic, nonetheless, how the rich always suffer this criticism––being detached from the concerns of the little people––and yet how they are also simultaneously held up as paragons of philanthropy and action-group support. It is a fact that the majority of charity has come from the rich, a fact that rests only very awkwardly with the idea that the rich just don't know or care about those in need. In any case, let the criticism stand: McCain embodies the old money provincialism that we have endured for eight years under W. Bush.

As for Obama, he embodies something much more scandalous in the W., namely, his lack of serious political experience. He has been expertly crafted by his party to strike all the right chords in the liberal American ear. And while he may not come from money, there is no denying he now embodies a classic example of an inadvertently aloof academic "thinker" and "orator." Obama is that quintessential punching bag, a lawyer, and one educated at Harvard no less! So, while he may not have sprung full-formed from the brow of the elite, he is now ensconced warmly in the embrace of the ivory tower and elite concerns. Just as Bush's credentials from Yale were meant to balance his populist Texan charm, so Obama's elite credentials are meant to balance his sporadic persona as a "normal American", as a prophetic leader who did not gain his allure from years of elite training, but, mystically, from an inner compass of ebony wholesomeness.

What bothers me is that, insofar as people complain America fell for Bush's polished image––all persona and little substance––, they are being blinded by their own complaints (or blinding others with them) to such an extent that we are being primed to fall for it all again in a new guise. Are we to imagine Obama's handlers are any less real or influential than Bush's? Are we to imagine one talking suit is better than another just because one is black and the other white? Or, at the very least, are we to imagine one inexperienced brain of the elite is better for being more eloquent? If one is making one's criticism of a politician the fact that he or she is too much image and too elite, then I see no way towards a meaningful criticism, given what modern politicking means. By contrast, if one makes one's criticisms of a politician specific legislative and moral points, as I do, then I frankly have very little concern with his elite attachments and moneyed detachments. The bottom line for me is one of principle, not one of comparing one political image against another. Insofar as Obama vigorously, indeed proudly advocates and underwrites the abortion movement in the USA, he is an absolutely unacceptable candidate for me or, I would say, any committed Catholic even basically cognizant of the Church's teachings on the ethic of life and the gravity of sin involved in formally supporting a candidate that violates that ethic.

I have heard it argued there is no grounds for "voting your religion". But this is as nonsensical as arguing we ought not "vote our values" or "vote our desires", insofar as religion conveys and animates the most basic values and desires in our lives. We have no choice but to live, or violate, our own values, including our religious (or irreligious) values. To paraphrase Shakespeare, to our own selves we must be true––and it may just follow the night like the day, that we shan't be taken in by any political image. In the world of modern American politics, we may only have smoke and mirrors to look into when we look into a candidate qua image––but at least if we make choices separate from the image, we can look ourselves in the mirror without shame.

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