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Sunday was election day here in Bavaria. There are a lot of people who think that this state doesn‘t have a democracy, since it‘s been ruled by the same party for so long that public servants are not seen to be serving anyone but themselves. …
I’ve been thinking about what makes democracy tick as I read a book by David Foster Wallace, the most brilliant writer of my generation in many ways, who killed himself on September 12th, losing his 20-year fight against depression. This book is called „McCain’s Promise“, and it’s about what makes people care enough to get involved in politics. According to Wallace, it comes down to straight talk.
It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2000 McCain was the candidate who stood for change. His straight talk got young people interested in politics. David Foster Wallace, who covered the McCain campaign for Rolling Stone, describes how at the end of each speech McCain would pause for effect and say “I‘m going to tell you something. I may have said some things here today that maybe you don‘t agree with, and I might have said some things that you hopefully do agree with. But I will always. Tell you. The truth.” That line would get him standing ovations. Why? Wallace describes and analyses it so lucidly that I’m going to read you a long passage now from his book:
“When McCain says it, the people are cheering not for him so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They’re cheering the loosening of a weird sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain’s résumé and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters’ pain but relief from it. Because we’ve been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It’s ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. We learn this at like age four – it‘s grownups‘ first explanation to us of why it’s bad to lie (“How would you like it if…?”). And we keep learning for years, from hard experience, that getting lied to sucks – that it diminishes you, denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world. Especially if the lies are chronic, systemic, if experience seems to teach that everything you‘re supposed to believe in’s really just a game based on lies. Young Voters have been taught well and thoroughly. You may not personally remember Vietnam or Watergate, but it’s a good bet you remember “No new taxes” and “Out of the loop” and “No direct knowledge of any impropriety at this time” and “did not inhale” and “Did not have sex with that Ms. Lewinsky” and etc. etc. It’s painful to believe that the would-be “public servants” you’re forced to choose between are all phonies whose only real concern is their own care and feeding and who will lie so outrageously and with such a straight face that you know they’ve just got to believe you’re an idiot. So who wouldn’t yawn and turn away, trade apathy and cynicism for the hurt of getting treated with contempt? And who wouldn’t fall all over themselves for a top politician who actually seemed to talk to you like you were a person, an intelligent adult worthy of respect? A politician who all of a sudden out of nowhere comes on TV as this total long-shot candidate and says that Washington is paralyzed, that everyone there’s been bought off, and that the only way to really “return government to the people” as all the other candidates claim they want to do is to outlaw huge unreported political contributions from corporations and lobbies and PACs… all of which are obvious truths that everybody knows but no recent politician anywhere’s had the stones to say. Who wouldn’t cheer, hearing stuff like this, especially from a guy we know chose to sit in a dark box for four years instead of violate a code?” (p. 56/57)
Wallace sat in the dark box of depression most of his life, and truth obviously meant the world to him. Well, the people he calls Young Voters are still looking for that same quality, now more than ever, after eight years of the Bush reality show. But McCain doesn’t have what it takes. Wallace saw the problem in McCain’s unsmiling reaction to the cheering Young Voters as it became apparent to him that he just might actually win:
“It’s worth looking hard at his eyes in these photos. Now there’s something to lose, or to win. Now it gets complicated, the campaign and the chances and the strategy; and complication is dangerous, because the truth is rarely complicated. Complication usually has more to do with mixed motives, gray areas, compromise.”
McCain is a maverick, not a politician, and bad at compromise. To become president, he’s playing dirty games which break his legendary code of honor and which he may not agree with completely. Did you notice how he avoided looking Obama in the eye in the first presidential debate? Straight talk may be a great quality in a man. But it’s not enough for the President of the United States. And that’s the truth.
- Obituary for David Foster Wallace by Julian Gough/ Prospect Magazine
- Deutsche Welle bulletin about the elections in Bavaria
Congratulations, dear Bavaria
The CSU (the conservative party) has lost the absolute majority it held since the early 1960s in a landslide election, dropping from 60% (the last elections were in 2003) to 43% of the vote. Now they will need to form a coalition with one of the other parties, who, of course, have very little practical experience in governance. A very healthy change for the better, through the transformation process will be rather novel to the generation now in power. In celebration, here are the one and only Biermösl Blosn, who have been trying to sing down the CSU for ages: