Political speech is so close to religious discourse. Listening to John Kerry and his friends and family last night was a little like praying: my mind skates over the parts I find disturbing (as during prayers beseeching God to smite our enemies), and lingers, swelling with desire, during the parts that lift my heart. Then I want them to be real, I want him to be a man of his word, and I?m afraid to want it too much.
The best illustration of this I’ve seen is in the clip linked from my June 13th blog entry, in which a montaged Bush apologizes for his crimes and pledges to make them right. I’ve watched this little film with many friends, peering closely as it unspools on one square inch of my computer screen. No one has remained dry-eyed. Even when you know it’s a fiction, the longing for it to be true is just too powerful to resist.
I am especially susceptible to candidates’ children’s tribute to their fathers, as my own father died when I was a little girl. I’ve been known to burst into tears at a TV commercial featuring daddy’s little girl, so you can see why I found Alexandra Kerry’s story especially moving, weeping and chopping vegetables as I listened.
What is so jarring in convention coverage is the way the commentators must shift every topic to marketing strategy and every mood to cynical disbelief. (I tuned into public stations, but they don’t seem all that different from the commercial ones in this respect.) After each speech, they tell us what the speaker \should\ have said to respond to the latest polling data on what Americans think of the candidates. Sometimes the commentators are visibly moved, but within a few minutes they shake off whatever human response they may have had and begin peeling away ordinary meaning in favor of inside baseball. PBS has now been terrified by the right into a state of “balance” that cancels any hint of liberalism. It’s stupefying, as if an atheist and a fundamentalist were to stand behind every rabbi and priest at services, broadcasting instant reviews to the congregation.
This morning’s papers as full of the same incomprehensible stuff, as this from the \New York Times\: “there could be little doubt about the urgent and complicated tasks Mr. Kerry faced as he walked into the Fleet Center: to convince the nation’s voters that he could match Mr. Bush’s credentials as a wartime president” Bush’s credentials as an evader, cheater, liar, and war-monger? What are they talking about?
I thought Kerry’s slogan, “Help is on the way,” was inspired, because it so perfectly reflected the feeling of panic endemic in Bush?s America, and so perfectly expressed my own desire for relief. But if the data have any validity, for everyone who responded as I did, there’s someone out there who–as astounding as I find this–believes in the sincerity and capability of George Bush. Gandhi said that “All religions teach that two opposite forces act upon us and the human endeavor consists in a series of eternal rejections and acceptances.” It would be absurd to see Kerry as an angel or Bush as a demon (or vice versa); both are flesh and blood, and flawed. But still, judging by my own feelings and those around me, we seem to be not just in an election but in the grip of an ultimate contest as Gandhi described it.
Gandhi also said “A correct diagnosis is three-fourths the remedy.” This day, I pray that John Kerry is listening to the right diagnostician, and that by some miracle, the TV pundits wake up realizing that it?s time to pay attention to the essence, not the spin.