POLITICS DRIVEN BY FICTION: MADE FOR TV

By Sam Smith | The confluence of Barack Obama’s stadium acceptance extravaganza and John McCain’s pick for vice president offers superfluous but final proof that Americans have been consigned to spend their lives as part of a crowd scene in an HBO special. Both Obama and Palin have come out of nowhere, rising to preeminence not on the basis of achievements, politics or service but by having all the qualities an ad executive looks for when trying to market a new product. What the Mad Men of the 1960s sought in cigarettes and cars, their 21st century equivalents now apply to candidates.

Of course, at some point reality enters and we find that the cigarettes bringing us springtime on one puff and the cars taking us to heaven weren’t what they seemed. Or, as ad executive Jerry Della Famina once put it, “There is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens, all that the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster.” Which is one reason why, as our marketing skills have improved, both our economy and politics have declined.

If you step way from the politics and reality, the marketing of Obama has been remarkable if not necessarily all productive. Dana Milbank gave the feel:

|||| Obama’s everyman efforts are unlikely to be aided by accepting the nomination in front of Greek-style columns in the middle of a football stadium. Privately, Democrats cringed. . . Luckily, Democrats had the foresight to remove the Air Force One model, the presidential limousine, the full-size replica of the Oval Office and the inauguration gowns that had been on exhibit earlier in the week. . .

Instead of savoring the history-making, Obama aides found themselves answering questions about the columns and the stadium from anxious Democrats and from journalists . . .

After nightfall, the nominee emerged between the columns, walked out to the wedding cake and waved skyward. He delivered a speech that soared to the heights of Mount Olympus. . .

The speech ended, the nominee gazed heavenward, and red, white and blue fireworks poured from the tops of the columns. Streamers hung over the Doric frieze. Triumphant orchestral music played, and Obama, his running mate, and his family departed through the still-smoking Pillars of Hercules. ||||

It may seem stunning that an otoh botoh (on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand) unaccomplished centrist whose vaunted eloquence is so elusive that his only words regularly quoted are marketing slogans like “change we can believe in” and “yes we can” has made it so far so quickly. Yet if you study the other work of some of his major backers in Hollywood such as David Geffin it becomes less surprising. For example, as I watched the stadium oration, the trailer for Genghis Khan drifted into my head.

The marketing effort for Obama has been aided immensely by a media that no longer offers the relief of facts but functions as movie critics, applauding the skill or failure of fictions rather than comparing them to reality. Proof of this shift is that candidates have submerged positions or policies in favor of narratives, once the skill of novelists and playwrights rather than those engaged in the real. In the past month alone, the term narrative has been used along with the word campaign over 2200 times in new stories. And the Democratic convention speeches were as stuffed with appealing personal sagas as they were lacking in ideas or arguments.

The media commentary has also been hyperbolic in the extreme. Howard Fineman claimed that “If you know American history, you know that Obama’s nomination is the social equivalent of landing a man on the moon.” And Radar reported that ” Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews kicked things off right with some unabashed rejoicing (replete with comparisons to Alexander the Great and Aaron Sorkin). . . Political analyst Michelle Bernard later tried to keep things in perspective by admitting that she watched the speech alone in the green room so she could weep and declaring that it was ‘the greatest day in our nation’s history.'”

In fact, the nomination of a bi-ethnic candidate for president was only a matter of time rather than of effort and it insults an entire civil rights era to give it such an overblown status. Obama has been trained, financed and comforted by the white establishment and while this is not his fault, neither does it compare with the pain and suffering of those who paved his way.

Further, in its groupie-like enthusiasm, the media has ignored major matters such as another speech Obama gave in Colorado some weeks before the convention. In it he made the extraordinarily frightening promise that “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

With Google’s news search, one comes up with only two media citations of this comment, both by conservative journals.

Besides, before one assigns too much credit to Obama’s purported intrinsic qualities, consider that Hillary Clinton came within inches of being successfully recreated as a sturdy defender of the working class as well as having all her past sins, lies and near indictment totally exorcised from public discussion. It’s amazing what the Mad Men can do with enough money floating around.

And now, less than 24 hours after Obama departed the Albert Spearian stage in Denver a new product has been introduced: Sarah Palin.

Palin is where Obama was four years ago: overwhelmingly unknown and suddenly selected by powers that be for a leading role in another made for TV special. While Obama was young, bi-ethnic, smart and unthreatening, Palin also has plenty of meat for the Mad Men, witness this from Wikipedia:

|||| Palin was born as Sarah Louise Heath in Sandpoint, Idaho, the daughter of Charles and Sally (Sheeran) Heath. Her family moved to Alaska when she was an infant. Charles Heath was a popular science teacher and coached track. The Heaths were avid outdoors enthusiasts; Sarah and her father would sometimes wake at 3 a.m. to hunt moose before school, and the family would regularly run 5k and 10k races.

Palin was the point guard and captain for the Wasilla High School Warriors, in Wasilla, Alaska, when they won the Alaska small-school basketball championship in 1982; she earned the nickname “Sarah Barracuda” because of her intense play. She played the championship game despite a stress fracture in her ankle, hitting a critical free throw in the last seconds. Palin, who was also the head of the school Fellowship of Christian Athletes, would lead the team in prayer before games.

In 1984, Palin was second-place in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant after winning the Miss Wasilla contest earlier that year, winning a scholarship to help pay her way through college. In the Wasilla pageant, she played the flute and also won Miss Congeniality.

Palin holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho where she also minored in politics.

Her husband, Todd, is a Native Yup’ik Eskimo. Outside the fishing season, Todd works for BP at an oil field on the North Slope and is a champion snowmobiler, winning the 2000-mile “Iron Dog” race four times. The two eloped shortly after Palin graduated college; when they learned they needed witnesses for the civil ceremony, they recruited two residents from the old-age home down the street.

She briefly worked as a sports reporter for local Anchorage television stations while also working as a commercial fisherman with her husband, Todd, her high school sweetheart. One summer when she was working on Todd’s fishing boat, the boat collided with a tender while she was holding onto the railing; Palin broke several fingers.

On September 11, 2007, the Palins’ son Track joined the Army. Eighteen years old at the time, he is the eldest of Palin’s five children. Track now serves in an infantry brigade and will be deployed to Iraq in September. She also has three daughters: Bristol, 17, Willow, 13, and Piper, 7. On April 18, 2008, Palin gave birth to her second son, Trig Paxson Van Palin, who has Down syndrome. She returned to the office three days after giving birth. Palin refused to let the results of prenatal genetic testing change her decision to have the baby. “I’m looking at him right now, and I see perfection,” Palin said. “Yeah, he has an extra chromosome. I keep thinking, in our world, what is normal and what is perfect?”

Details of Palin’s personal life have contributed to her political image. She hunts, eats moose hamburger, ice fishes, rides snowmobiles, and owns a float plane. Palin holds a lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association. She admits that she used marijuana when it was legal in Alaska, but says that she did not like it. ||||

If you were looking for something to replace the Obama special on HBO, this wouldn’t be a bad narrative. And just as irrelevant to what we should be talking and thinking about.

Some years ago the Green Party in Germany was divided into two groups known as the fundis and the realos. While the definitions aren’t applicable – the fundis held to core Green priniciples while the realos wheeled and dealed with the other parties – the names seem to fit well what has happened to Democratic politics. The liberal fundis – like Christian fundamentalists – are content with an icon with whom to deposit not only their hope but any critical thought about what such a course might produce. Fundi liberals are not new; they first appeared in large numbers with the campaign of Bill Clinton, the most right wing Democratic presidential candidate in over 60 years. These liberals essentially gave up thinking about anything other that which the Clinton regime wanted and Clinton took full advantage of them. The same is going on with Obama, a jettisoning of any serious interest in policies and programs in favor of blind faith in a particular leader. History tells us that little good comes of this.

In fact, you need only check the lack of significant liberal activity in anti-war, anti-torture and efforts to preserve the constitution to see how incapable the fundi libs are of anything beyond adoration.

Realos are those who still believe in working on issues and understand that politicians play a complicated and often contradictory role in achieving their goals. They know Obama will be good about some things and awful about others. They know that his post-partisanship so far only appears to include outreach to conservatives. And while they know that he would be better than Bush or McCain, blind complicity in a phony political “narrative” that relieves him of all pressure to do right is a disaster waiting just a few months to happen.

It is truly scary to be a realo these days, to be told repeatedly that it is enough to have hope and faith and that , implicitly, everything politics is meant to be about really doesn’t matter. It is sad to find how little liberal participation there has been in efforts to save the Constitution or to press for sanity in numerous other areas. It is painful to find those whose job description is the description of reality – that is to say, the media – enthralled by endless fictional manipulations.

But it is where we are and those who prefer reality to fiction are badly outnumbered on both the left and the right. In the end, as it always does, reality decides to speak for itself and, when it does, we then wonder why we hadn’t thought about it sooner.