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Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Elegance Of Stupidity - Electoral Politics In America

The American political arena has never been known for its quick thinkers, eloquence, sparkling wit, or crackling intelligence.  In fact politicians who might have been worthy of rhetorical flourish, some irony or pith have kept their language simple - farm speak, down home homily, uncomplicated here-and-now talk. 

Americans are suspicious of men who put on airs.  Anyone who marches to the iambic pentameter rhythms of Shakespeare is queer, not to be trusted.  Their Bible is not the airy fairy Elizabethan poetry of the King James Version, but the straightforward, common man's English New Revised Standard Version.  Their rhetoric is vernacular, their language is as unadorned, unembellished as a fencepost. Americans have no Winston Churchills in the wings, nor would let them on stage if they had them. 


Bill Clinton made sense, reflected and considered before he spoke, chose his words carefully, but crafted his speeches without metaphor or simile.  He was an exegete who could disaggregate, reassemble, and organize his thoughts, but he was no Mark Antony whose speech before the Roman Senate dripped with irony, marvelous in its insinuations, canny in its use of political asides.  Antony was brilliant, a calculating, scheming, but principled politician who knew that language and its magnificent subtleties could win any crowd.

Bill Clinton took his measure, spoke slowly and thoughtfully, shared his intelligence in teaspoonfuls, never went more than a half-cup, and kept his audiences attentive and nodding in approval. 

John Kennedy was as close as any American politician has come to geniality and access.  So quick on his feet, so agile and deft that one could imagine him with the likes of Cole Porter. Both were masters of internal rhythm, catchy rhyme, and cultural whimsy. 


Lyndon Johnson who followed Kennedy after his assassination almost spitefully spoke in Texan with drawling home-on-the-range references to sagebrush, saddles, and campfires. 'Like a steer loose in a barnyard', LBJ he said, or 'A rattler with no rattle'.  He was proud of his Texas bullying, bull-riding, and corralling.  The patrician East Coast hated him after their man, the elegant and sophisticated Kennedy had been gunned down; but the rest of the country knew that Johnson was one of theirs. 

Prime Minister's Question Time is a display of British wit, sharp intellect, and hilariously ironic humor that American politicians can only wonder at.  Margaret Thatcher was the best at political repartee and rapier wit.  Dripping with contempt at Labor PMs who dared defy her, she shamed them, neutered them, and ridiculed them, all with diction, flourish, and agility. 

The current President of Italy, Giorgia Meloni and the rising star of the French Right, Marion Marechal are both smart, determined, and sharply eloquent women.  No interviewer or political opponent has been a match for their quick intelligence, wit, and reserves of history, culture, and political reference.  Theirs is a machine-gun delivery, never an 'um' or an 'ah', rapid fire, on target, precise, unhesitating, sophisticated in their use of language, and brilliant for their mastery of subject, time, and audience. 

For anyone familiar with these two European figures can only wince at American politicians who have trouble making sense let alone weaving a complex theme.  Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States often makes no sense at all, but hilariously and ironically thinks she does

The significance of the passage of time, right? The significance of the passage of time.  So when you think about it, there is great significance to the passage of time...  We must work together. Work together. To see where we are.  Where we are headed, where we are going, and our vision for where we should be. But also see it as a moment to, yes. Together address the challenges and to work on the opportunities that are presented by this moment  

President Biden is even worse.  At least there is some kernel of meaning in what she says once one untangles it all; but Biden often drifts into some unimaginable places.  At a brewery in Wisconsin he said, "The beer brewed here, it is used to make the brew beered here." While most of the sentence was unintelligible, he seemed to add, "Ooh, Earth Rider, thanks for the Great Lakes. I wonder why…"

During a CNN town hall, Biden said: "And the question is whether or not we should be in a position where you are — why can't the experts say we know that this virus is, in fact — is going to be — or, excuse me — we know why all the drugs approved are not temporarily approved, but permanently."

The President speaks only from prepared texts, rarely takes questions, and his speeches, prepared by doctrinally pure aides and written by the most lowest common denominator writers are the worst sort of pandering, insulting nonsense.  George Floyd this, George Floyd that, racism here, there, and everywhere, cotton pickin' neo-slavery, he hammered on to graduating seniors at Morehouse College, a traditionally black institution. 

The graduates were having none of it, these middle class, upwardly mobile, well-educated students who had long ago gotten past the street cred, 'hood caricature laid on them by the President.  They wanted to be spoken to as mature adults, responsible citizens, intelligent voters and instead Biden gave them black blarney, complete, irrelevant nonsense, 

Imagine Margaret Thatcher in her heyday, the era of revolutionary social, political change in Britain, talking down to voters, caramelizing, sweetening her message, pandering for votes; or Meloni or Marechal? Or can one imagine Donald Trump pulling his punches, cheating his supporters, talking down to them?

God only knows what Americans would make if a Meloni or Marechal were on the ballot here, other than being befuddled, lost, and confused by the unadulterated stream of logic and, God forbid, the unvarnished facts.  We must resist the corrosive, corrupting, divisive, and hateful influence of Islam in Europe, Marechal insists.  Not 'radical Islam', covering her tracks, but Islam, the religion, pure and simple.  No accommodation, no retreat from brutal honesty. 

American politicians like Joe Biden stumble over Dick and Jane, McGuffey reader basic English but hem and haw when it comes to geopolitical reality. We love Islam, Biden says repeatedly, one of the world's great religions, a religion of peace, when everyone can see that it is nothing of the kind, that Hamas, ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, al-Shabab, and Hezbollah are not simply terrorist organizations but religion-based, religion-fueled ones. 

Instead of Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Meloni, and Marechal's undiluted, unhedged principles, American politicians are afraid - in this penitential, censorious age - of offending regardless of the truth.  

The most unsettling thing of all is that Americans endorse this dumbing down, this cowpoke talk, and the downhome political imposters who can't get past it.  Biden and Harris, the so-called 'leaders of the free world' talk gibberish, pander, and make no sense at all; and yet they are forgiven.  

The electorate, alas, is complicit in their ignorance.  Oddly and depressingly, many Americans actually swallow their cant about Trump the Satan, the neo-Hitler, the Great Destroyer of Democracy.  Not a cogent argument, not one cohesive, intelligent speech has come from American politicians about geopolitics, the economics of energy, social dynamics, and the socio-cultural context in which decisions are made. 

We deserve the leaders we elect is the only meme applicable here; but the deliberate rejection of intellectual astuteness, perception, and insight is bloody depressing 

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