We don’t have network TV access in our home; the television screen serves as a monitor for watching films. However, we do have an old fashioned rabbit ears antennae, and if you attach it and set it on a chair next to the TV set just so you can pull in one fuzzy channel. The one fuzzy channel happens to be Fox, and last week I hooked it up to watch the presidential debate.
Most of my impressions of current events come from the print media, though I had rigged the TV earlier to watch an Obama speech and for the vice presidential debate. (That doggone Sarah Palin is some sort of goshdarn American, you betcha; not like That One, who is not one of us). So it was the first time I had seen John McCain on TV. My impression? We have a serious charisma gap here. McCain seemed agitated and snorty, like some feral creature who had been roused from his burrow. And Obama? The epitome of cool. If McCain’s performance had a soundtrack it would be, I don’t know, Spike Jones maybe. Or Loony Tunes. Obama’s would be cool jazz; Miles Davis, or Coltrane at his mellowest.
I won’t bore you with analysis of the content of the debate. I’m not voting for either of them. Obama is horrid on abortion, and to the surprise and disappointment of many he is emphasizing his record rather than downplaying it. And he chose a prochoice Catholic- and party hack- for his running mate.
And McCain, as I have said here before, is a grave threat to world peace. He’s like Bush, without the intellectual depth and sound judgment. Yes, that is a joke.
Decades of observing Republican rule brings the conclusion that a McCain presidency would not change anything regarding legal abortion. And as the election of Obama would bring a collective sigh of relief to the rest of the world that the Bush Era is definitively over, I suppose I am hoping that Obama wins. But I can’t vote for him. I think the case can be made, but I am not going to do it.
Some Catholics are saying that one can never vote for a candidate who favors legal abortion unless his opponent also is proabortion. But what if the antiabortion candidate also has a campaign promise to round up illegal immigrants and send them to the gas chamber? Hyperbole, I know, but I am making a point. McCain claims to be prolife, but what if, like me, you think his presidency, based on his own statements, could well bring on world war? The possibility of the destruction of civilization is not a proportionate reason for voting for the opposition?
However, what really struck me, watching the two men in action, besides the coolness gap, was the fact that for the first time in American electoral politics we have two placeless men running for president. That is, neither of them is from anywhere in particular. McCain is a navy brat, and Bill Kauffman and Allan Carlson have written eloquently on the way military life militates (ha) against the family and local culture. And Obama? Where is he from? Kenya? Kansas? Hawaii? Chicago? What president has been so rootless? Every one I can think of has been identified with a particular culture within the United States. Did this make them good presidents? Not at all. LBJ was the quintessential Texan and a horrid president. Clinton was an Arkansas good old boy. Bush Senior a New England Wasp. What it did mean was that mixed with their generic ideological Americanism -and sometimes preceding it- was love of a particular place; a landscape, a cuisine, musical idioms, the whole patchwork that makes up a local culture.
While possessing this love- which is the literal meaning of “patriotism”- does not guarantee effective or inspiring leadership, for the one lacking it America is first and foremost an idea and “patriotism” an ideology, mere nationalism. McCain spelled this out specifically in the debate, saying that “America is the greatest force for good in the world”. A pretty stunning bit of hubris, but I didn’t hear any outcry, even from his Christian Right supporters, for whom one would assume Jesus Christ would hold first place in the force for good department.
McCain may have articulated something that most Americans believe; certainly if Obama had contradicted him he could kiss the election goodbye. But unmixed with any rootedness in particular place and culture we get ideological Americanism served straight up, untempered by true patriotism.
Whoever wins this election we are going to be ruled by a real Nowhere Man. I’m not sure what that portends, but it can’t be good.