Election 2008

Hillary and Obama's Bland Debate: Tamer Than Watching 'The Waltons'

Stupefied by the excitement over the Democratic contest, an American expat asks us, "What's gotten into you people?"
It's late in the morning Moscow, Russia time, and I recently finished watching the Democratic debate on my laptop. I thought I'd share with my fellow Americans one humble expatriate's opinion on the most important election since [enter dramatic sounding even-numbered year here]. From way out here in the land of "managed democracy" and retro menace, the spectacle of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama standing together as the two candidates for the Democratic Party left me with one overriding impression: They're boring!

Why wasn't I warned? Who decided that this was an election battle between old and new, between change and experience ... or even more ludicrous, a choice between "hope" and "experience"? Who's slapping these exciting-sounding narratives over a horrifically flat and undramatic reality? What's gotten into you people? Either the insurance lobby has been seeding America's atmosphere with laughing gas for the past few months, or you folks really are as stupid as you look from over here.

Before watching the debate, I'd read about how electrifying and inspirational Barack Obama was supposed to be. I'd heard about the arenas jam packed with teary-eyed 20-somethings. I'd seen clips of a wild-eyed Chris Matthews salivating uncontrollably every time the word "Obama" was uttered, as if the slick Illinois senator was standing off-camera ringing a little bell. Indeed he's got about half of the younger-at-heart media demographic responding to that little bell of his, even people that I know. I keep expecting to have Leonard Nimoy enter my apartment holding a small syringe and a ball of cotton, telling me to go to sleep, not to worry, I won't feel a thing, the next morning I'll be "inspired" by Obama too. Which is why I just popped another Adderall ... the hell if I'm going to sleep after seeing that debate.

Now that I've watched Barack Obama debate, and beheld this modern-day Martin Luther King Jr., this Kennedy-meets-Lincoln-by-way-of-John-The-Baptist, along with his co-star in this miserable prime time drama, Hillary Clinton, I gots ta ask: how can you people stand it? Forget about how either of those two could inspire emotions like love and hope and hatred -- just physically, how can you watch it without wanting to kick something? That debate was the most boring television production since The Waltons.

But in making this judgment, I go on the false assumption that Americans have taste. Which you people don't. A country that spends 12 stressful underpaid hours a day in a cubicle for less and less pay, then returns home just in time to watch their favorite reality show about a group of hyper-ambitious business school reptiles sucking up to Donald Trump for a promotion is not a country whose tastes can be trusted. The Apprentice is the only explanation for Obama's appeal: his perfectly bland, business-friendly swagger makes him exactly the sort of African-American who'd earn Trump's approval. For a country that's spent the last 30 years sucking up to their bosses in direct proportion to the contempt that their bosses show to them, it's only fitting that they'd swoon over Obama.

And then there's the doomed co-star Hillary. Poor Hillary, no matter how sweetly she soups up her cheek implants or blonds up her gray roots, and no matter how blandly she tries to out-bland Barack with her her flat monotone voice, she just can't break out of her character role as America's Misogyny Magnet: she's the bitchy-neighbor in the bad sitcom who always gets the live studio audience to crow "oooo": the minute the camera focuses on her, most men feel a kind of unmediated hate that's completely beyond their control, a strain of perfectly preserved, primal misogyny locked up deep inside of just about every voting-age male's psyche (if you men claim you haven't felt it, you're either monstrous liars or else you're wearing a leather head harness with an inflatable mouth gag as you're reading this).

Sure she's as bland as Obama, perhaps even marginally blander, but at the animal level, she triggers a neurochemical jet that sets off the very first hate most men feel when they encounter a powerful and threatening woman (like, say, I dunno, your 4th grade teacher Mrs. McManus? or the dean Ms. Mead, the wrinkled-mouth Episcopalian baboon who kicked you out of school and told you you'd never amount to anything?).

For years now American men have been trying to attach some sort of moral or political significance to their Hillary hatred, but safely out here in Eurasia, I can tell the simple plain truth about it: it's a misogyny that they can't control. They hate her because she's the embodiment of every woman they've ever hated since the time they opened their eyes. It can't be explained, which is why it's such an ugly yet pure hatred, and why everyone burns the candle on both ends to justify the hate in moralistic terms, or political terms, or anything but raw misogyny. She's been taking the misogyny heat for a good 25 years from roughly 150 million Americans, maybe more, and it's transformed her into the perfect male-ego punching bag, with just about as much soul and sensitivity as a thick leather bag full of padded stuffing can possibly have.

Which is why Americans need her around to work out on: Hillary's the easiest target that America has faced since Gulf War I, and if there's one thing feeble Americans love, it's bashing the shit out of easy targets. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi conscripts forced into their Kuwaiti desert camp-out way back in 1991 how America deals with easy targets: we slaughter the shit out of them from the sky and the sea and from control rooms hundreds of miles away, and after we slaughter them without a fight, we high-five each other for a job well done! In political-media terms, that means Hillary takes the full pummeling of the feeble American literati's mighty arsenal: she makes them look good in the eyes of a nation that applauds easy kills and scripted endings: "Look at me! Look how great I am as my new smart invective smashes into Hillary Clinton! Hoo-ah! Check out my laser-guided similes and pilotless pejoratives! Hoo-ah! Can you believe how great we all are for hating her?"

Back to last night's debate ... in the typical American account there are two versions: either the traditional bland roundup of the debate's "issues," which appeals to older traditional idiots who take comfort in believing in the rules; or else the more "contemporary" whining about the debate's "lack of substance." It's such a puerile and self-serving whine that it almost makes you appreciate the David Brinkley world of traditional idiots.

We're talking about two people struggling to be the embodiment of a violent nation in steep decline: I've seen this in Russia, and it's not pretty ... when you throw 100 million Baptofascists into the mix, then nothing could be more frivolous than demanding substance and real issues.

Do baboons demand "substance" during their power struggles? I bet the apes on the periphery complain to each other during nervous grooming sessions, but not the ones closer to the action. But at least baboons aren't boring. For them all that matters are fangs, and the same goes for Middle America.

And when it comes to fangs, let's give both Hillary and Obama their due: they've both got 'em. Obama's fangs are far more lethal because they're so stealthy, so couched in moral platitudes about "change" and "hope" and "bridging" -- not very clever stuff, but you don't have to be all that clever to fool these folks.

As for Hillary, she'd gain nothing by hiding her fangs, and I'd doubt she wants to. Hillary Clinton became the most despised woman in American history simply for trying to help millions of Americans live healthier, longer lives. She tried to give the country free health care 15 years ago, and the suckers will never, ever forgive her for it.

They still want to kill her for trying to ease their lives: "By gum, we folks w'd rather die of a stroke, than have some elitist woman talk down to us 'n tell us what kinda health care we needs! We dun don' wanna live if livin' means takin' handouts from her! We're 'mericans, by gum, and as 'meric'ns, we c'n git our own health care, by gum! Least, that's what my boss tells me to think, and so does my fav'rite radio talk show host, who kinda reminds me of my boss cuz he's always yellin' 'n stuff, 'n 'cuz he's richer 'n I am. But that's fine for us simple folks! Just don' you go tryin' t' give us health care, you hear?"

If you tried to offer tens of millions of people the most important precious thing of all -- health, a longer life -- and then these same barely-upright monkeys all went berserk and grabbed sticks and started beating them on the ground telling you to go away and leave them alone, well, it'd make anyone mean and cynical too.

If there was anything truly sinister about last night's debate, it was the spectacle of a nation patting itself on the back for allegedly overcoming its racism and its sexism. The ultimate sentimental fantasy in a post-U2 world come true: "Isn't it incredible that we have a black man and a woman facing off against each other? We've come so far! We're such a great generation!" It's the Hollywood moment for America, and they won't shuttup about it as they wipe their inspired eyes and pat themselves on their backs for the progress they've made.

Problem is, the very opposite is true: America is still viciously racist and as sexist as it can get away with, and that is why ultimately, as the boredom wore off and the deeper significance set in, last night's debate was such a disturbing experience. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton represent the very opposite of black or womanhood achievement; they are the two most perfectly co-opted specimens of their kind imaginable, almost as if they were concocted in some evil Monsanto lab, completely stripped of their color and gender, blanded down to the familiar safe beige of ruling-class America. If you listened to Barack speak without looking at him; if you read Hillary's text without hearing her; you wouldn't know a color or a gender was there. It wouldn't even enter your head. This blending of color and gender and culture doesn't lead to a happy neutral, but rather, to the triumph of one.

Samuel Johnson once wrote that a second marriage is "the triumph of hope over experience." But the irony of his maxim rests on the assumption that anything was ever experienced in the first failed marriage. This election isn't at all about hope versus experience. It's about a nation of hope junkies desperately trying to outrun the terrible and terrifying experiences in their rear view mirror, growing and gaining on them every day.
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