The politics of nothingness

Sam Smith
2007

Perusing still more puerile pandering in the cause of pacific politics by Barack Oblather, a vision suddenly appeared. While, according to Google, a few others have already experienced this transformational experience, it is still rare enough to deserve mention.

The apparition was, without doubt, Chauncy Gardiner aka Chance the gardener, the last manifestation of magnificent nothingness to appear on the American political scene – albeit the fiction of Chance was safely contained in the movie “Being There” while Obama is running for election to a real White House.

Like Obama, no one knew where Chance had come from. Even the CIA and FBI were unable to discover any information, with each concluding he is a clever cover-up by one of their own agents.

In the final scene, reports Wikipedia, “Chance is seen apparently walking across the surface of a lake while the most important movers and shakers in the USA discuss running him for President. This scene continues to generate discussion and controversy. Clearly we see Chance walking on water, an act with a clear biblical reference. . . Is there a prosaic explanation, such as hidden stepping-stones? Or is Chance the Savior (as so many of the characters are looking for)? Does he truly possess some special grace, given his simple innocence and simply being present to each moment without filters and ideas? In his 2001 book, The Great Movies, Roger Ebert argues for the latter interpretation. Another view is that the director (and the author) are simply asking the audience: “How much more would you have believed? We’ve been kidding you all along you know!”

The novel upon which the movie was based was written over thirty years ago by Jerzy Kosinski. The Obama candidacy may elevate Kosinksi to one of the most precient political authors of modern times. After all, what is more Obamesque than the sort of phrase that got Chance started? – “In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

Of course, there are differences between Obama and Chance. Obama does have a modest political record and he is intelligent where Chance was dense. But the dynamics of his unprecedented rise has painfully similarities, especially in the willingness of the public and the media to turn the corny platitudes into evidence of a Second Coming.

At a time of economic disjunction, enormous military failure, a national reputation on the skids and massive political corruption, it is not hard to see why the unwary should be attracted to one whose name in Swahili means “one who is blessed.”

This illusion is aided by a media that has, to a major degree, given up covering facts in political campaigns in favor a deconstruction of images, rhetoric and sensations. One of the results is what candidates pretend to be becomes infinitely more important than what they actually are.

Thus the media has all but ignored the long list of scandals in Hillary Clinton’s past in favor of such things as positive coverage of how she cynically responds to mention of her husband’s impeachment.

Obama is playing this same card for all its worth. He knows full well that the presidency is not about the “audacity of hope” and that, even if it were, he has no right to control its downloads as though he was the CEO of the RIAA of optimism.

Obama is engaged in a sophisticated con with a long history in this country. We normally associated it with evangelicals – the Elmer Gantrys and the Jerry Falwells – but the scam can be used by liberals as well. Born-again liberals can turn their backs on reality as well as any conservative, finding solace in the comforting chicken soup of faith and hope. The problem, of course, is that reality just keeps truckin’ along and Americans need far more than cliches to get them through the next few years.

While Obama is clearly being intellectually dishonest, this is, to be sure, a lesser sin than the congenital variety practiced by his leading opponent. The little available evidence suggests that Obama would more likely be a disappointment than a disgrace. Still in the end it’s a sad choice between the venal and the vacuum.

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