My grandmother moved in with us when I was a kid, shortly after her mother passed away.
It was a tumultuous time – Watergate had broken open and the nation’s political system had ground to a screeching halt, with the smoking remains being televised for all the world to see. She watched, of course, swearing all the while because they had pre-empted her soap operas. And since she was in charge of my brother and me while my parents were working, she would often use the events of the day as a springboard to impart the sort of wisdom and life lessons that family elders are supposed to impart in such situations. “People tell you that the cream will rise to the top,” she would say after yet another afternoon of revelations out of Washington DC, “but remember: shit floats too.”
Yes, she actually used to say that. I don’t know what the child-rearing manuals would have made of her, but she was an awful lot of fun for a 9-year-old boy to have around. And, really, it was in fact a valuable lesson, one that I have had many occasions to remember over the last three or four decades.
I’m trying to pay attention to the presidential race these days, the election being just a year away. It’s not easy, and I keep hearing my grandmother’s voice in my head, imparting wisdom and life lessons.
And why wouldn’t I, given the reality on the ground only a year away from the elections?
On the one hand, we have the incumbent president, a man who traded inspiration for accomplishment and who has paid the price, since his achievements have been systematically overlooked even by his own supporters. He was never going to be the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt – hell, it took Roosevelt a long time to become the first coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and few remember that he spent a fair amount of time on the 1932 campaign trail criticizing Herbert Hoover for reckless spending on social programs – and his most rabid supporters have not forgiven him for that.
As one commentator astutely noted a while back, the dirty little secret of American politics right now is that Barack Obama is a moderate conservative of the sort that had their own wing in the Republican Party way back when. Forty-five years ago, he would have been Nelson Rockefeller – socially liberal, fiscally conservative, business-friendly but with a deep appreciation for the social contract, the one that says that government and individuals each owe the other something and that taxes are the price one pays for civilization.
Those expecting a new Progressive wonderland have been disappointed. Those fearing a Socialist takeover of America have been … well, they’re still out there shouting about it, since no amount of reality is enough to shake those delusions. The rubber room of American politics is a crowded, crowded facility these days.
I’m pretty sure he’s a lock for the Democratic nomination, though, there being no other person with any equivalent stature in that party. It would be nice to have that settled early, since the last thing the country needs is a damaging primary fight that would more or less hand the presidency over to the Teabaggers.
And great googly moogly, folks, the extremists over on the right wing have certainly put forward quite a selection of cranks, losers, fanatics and cardboard cutouts, haven’t they?
There’s an avowed secessionist who now wants to run the very government he previously threatened to destroy, a man incapable of giving a coherent answer to a staged question and who seems to think that a jobs boom based partly on public sector employment and partly on no-benefit, minimum-wage positions entitles him to brag about the saving power of private industry.
There’s an apologist for slavery, a living, breathing reminder of the importance of taking one’s medications who is utterly incapable of giving a coherent answer to anything, staged or not, can’t be bothered to learn basic American history or simple science, and doesn’t understand why her stated position that she is subservient to her husband in all matters makes examining her husband something of a necessity.
There’s a Gilded Age relic who would rather let people die than part with one thin dime of his carefully hoarded lucre and has no idea why this makes him seem like someone that rational, moral people wouldn’t want in charge of a dog kennel, let alone the country.
There’s a special interest pinata who has spent most of the last few months running against his own health care reform program because … well, I’m not sure why. Perhaps he thinks that kind of total about face in the name of pandering to the most extreme elements of his party will make him seem strong instead of a spineless weathervane with no principles other than the sheer drive for power. I’m not entirely sure what he’d do with power if he got it, and I somehow doubt he knows either. He reminds me of the first Bush that way - a dog chasing a car because that's what he does, not because he has any real plans for the car if he catches it. It's not like he can drive.
There’s a corporate spokesperson (another wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries – my, but they do get their tentacles into everything these days, don't they?) whose own website, last time I checked, couldn’t tell the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and whose childish economic plan has been savaged as unworkable and disastrous by the same people who brought you the George W. Bush fiscal train wreck, a group that ought to know about economic failure.
And there’s a bunch of other candidates who have somehow managed to be “lesser” than that, which is a truly awe-inspiring achievement when you think about it.
I’m sorry my grandmother didn’t live to see this.
It would be worth sitting down to a few episodes of the CBS soap opera line-up (now sadly depleted from its polyester glory of the 1970s) just to hear her take on it.
I suppose I’ll have to find one of my own.
Shouldn’t be too hard.