Pre-Election Downs

Harper’s Magazine, October 2012



When both Presidential candidates agree that there’s a lot riding on the 2012 election cycle, and a magazine like Harper’s Monthly spends most of its editorial capital the month before voting day on election related articles, you have to believe things have reached some sort of critical mass, politically. 

Start with Thomas Frank’s broadside on how novelists idolize given politicians, to an exhortation by Victoria Bassetti on the importance of voting, and finish with a counterpoint essay by Kevin Baker on the frustrations of voting due to the degradation of democracies worldwide. Read these and you sense anger, you smell an oligarchy stalking you.  As Baker says in his piece: 

“…to vote for the modern right anywhere in the West today – is an act of national suicide.”

But why? Why would Western voters not take the opposite tack? Largely, I think, because in times of social change and economic upset,  people get scared. The composite reaction is to fear the future and to look longingly over one’s shoulder at the past – at what seems in retrospect to have been a happier, simpler time, simply because it’s now a known quantity.

Of course, this past-longing is a delusion, a sandpaper pad the right everywhere in the West is eminently capable of rubbing against our unease. What do they have to offer you within this gambit of delusion? Freedom. (Really? Freedom from what? Freedom of what?) Prosperity. (Really? The every-man-for-himself variety? Prosperity for whom? And at what price?) The bottom line here for the scared shitless is the fear that the future can only be worse than the present, and the right pounds that nugget at us constantly.

Over the next year or two, we’ll choose a path and we’ll see if it bears fruit. Yes, we’re struggling economically, and we have a Congress that answers to those who pony up money. So will our way out of our political/economic quandary be business as usual, a debilitating dose of austerity, or strategic spoonfuls of belt-tightening coupled to smart policies? 

Almost parenthetically, it seems, given this month’s thematic, a fine story by Roberto Bolano steers us into a literary frame of mind. Bolano’s gone now, but his fiction, his seemingly off-the-cuff narrative stories, leave us spellbound for the moment, almost forgetting  the high stakes poker game we’re playing vicariously within our political system – a game that, like most games of internecine warfare, leaves everyone a loser.


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