Saturday, 30 August 2008

Pimp my Convention

I’ve been watching the Democratic Convention with something approaching disbelief on the one hand, and disgust on the other. Yes, I can understand the need for a slickly-packaged, made-for-TV event to rally the party faithful and usher in the Democratic candidate. But is it really necessary to this extent? Four days of saccharine, feel-good, ultra-politically-correct posing, culminating in fireworks? Has politics in the United States become so devoid of meaning, so ridiculous, that we need to sell it like a rock concert?

Honestly speaking, I can’t reconcile the political tradition that stretches back to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington with this spectacle we’ve been watching the past few days. I certainly can’t reconcile it with the two great Democratic figures Barack Obama invoked in his acceptance speech – Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Neither Roosevelt nor Kennedy had to work this hard. Has the country changed, or the quality of the candidate?

The only thing I can reconcile this spectacle with is Caligula and the “bread and circuses” approach of the early Roman empire. The decadence, palpable commercialisation and lack of substance of the entire process is so blatant, that I’m surprised it’s taken seriously by so many. The drive to sell appears to have usurped any kind of self-respect, or respect for the voter’s basic intelligence. Instead, we must apparently advertise everything to everyone, as furiously as we advertise McDonald’s hamburgers or Coca Cola.

I find it entirely demeaning-not just to myself, but to the candidate-that we have to hear not only from Barack Obama, but from his wife and two children, not to mention about his mother and grandmother. None of these people are on the ticket, and from my perspective they have no bearing on my vote or my political priorities. We should respect their privacy and leave them out of it, and Barack Obama should have the strength of character to establish that some things are off limits and do not need to be marketed.

I also read with great interest that, inevitably, someone’s making money off the Convention. As I read in the International Herald Tribune (As conventions rev up, carmaker buffs its image, 28 August 2008), GM has provided 700 vehicles to the convention, some of them running on “waste beer”, or “beer that gets damaged during the production process.” Over 100 corporations, ranging from Qwest to FedEx to Hewlett Packard, “are treating the conventions as a glorified trade show.” The host committees of Minneapolis and Denver have raised over $ 112 million in private money so far.

Now, why would they be going to all that trouble? According to the IHT,

Donations to the host committees are tax-deductible, and they come with the promise of political access that is increasingly difficult to come by under ethics rules passed by Congress last year. Corporations are barred from making direct political contributions, but they can write six and seven-figure checks and get VIP credentials to the convention floor, invitations to private events with lawmakers and state officials, and the ability to plaster their logo and set up exhibition booths at events.”

What happened to “Change we can believe in?” Has it now been substituted with “Advertising we can believe in?” Or “Fundraising we can believe in?”

Now, in the middle part of my life, I am finally beginning to understand that William Butler Yeats line that was drilled into our heads in high school:

The best lack all conviction, while
the worse are filled with a passionate intensity
.

How in the world have things come to this?

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