It’s that time again. Soon the American airwaves will be in a frenzy with the 2012 campaigns.
Ambitious candidates are hitting the ground running, with strategists and stylists in tow. Media networks and advertisers are licking their chops at the guaranteed spike in viewership, as they get ready to spend a year and a half convincing the public that nothing exists in this big, wide, troubled world outside of the American presidential election.
Obama is coming to San Francisco for a $35,800-per-plate fundraiser. His wealthy local supporters will doubtless do the best they can for their man, despite his spotty delivery on early promises. Such as transparency, for which he was just given a prize.
Like his Nobel, this prize seems to have been awarded for the ideals he represents, or used to represent, more than for what he has done. (In an irony worthy of Steven Colbert, the transparency award was bestowed in a ceremony that was closed to the media and omitted from his public schedule. Not to mention that his administration censored 194 pages of their internal emails…. about their efforts to make government more transparent.)
Another disappointment for many was Guantanamo Bay; which is not only still open, but — per the White House’s announcement on the New Moon of April 4th — soon to be the site of military tribunals, against which Obama campaigned 4 years ago.
But those who have been tracking such contradictions will have lost count by now. The unions, whose picket lines Obama promised — in 2008 — to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and join, have watched him stand mutely on the sidelines while they fought for their lives in Wisconsin. The peace activists who hoped he would rein in the Pentagon have seen the military budget rise 20 billion dollars higher than it was under Bush. The progressives who expected accountability have seen more whistleblowers prosecuted under this administration than in the past forty years. Indeed, as WikiLeaks revealed in December, in his first months in office Obama quietly pressured Spain to drop its investigation into Bush’s torture of detainees.
What does it all mean? Does it mean that Obama is not a smart and well intentioned man? I think most of us would say No, it doesn’t mean that. I’ll warrant most of us would still vote for him, no matter who ends up running against him. Then what does it mean, that such a worthy man has such policies?
It means we’re using the wrong criteria to frame our question. If we really want to make sense of the man’s role right now, and what he’s likely to do upcoming, assessing him as as a good guy — via personality politics — won’t help us any more than deciding he looks great in a suit. The fanciful notion that a given politician would, or could, fix everything because he’s a fine, upstanding individual is, at this point in American history, as silly as trying on a poodle skirt we wore in the 1950s. We are different people now, and it no longer fits.
The USA is at an awkward age (see my lecture, The Saturn Return: America’s Growing Pains). Like a kid who’s too old to believe in Santa Claus but too young not to put out cookies and milk for him on Christmas eve, the USA is mid-way between an old way and a new way of seeing its leaders. Personality politics is the old way, and it’s comfortable, as familiar perspectives always are. But the realities of America’s show-biz elections have defeated its plausibility.
The new way of seeing institutions of power, which is arising during the Pluto in Capricorn years, is troubling; as new perspectives always are. Not only because of its merciless demand that we confront the implications of what our system has become; but also because we can’t be sure what our new perspective should look like. We can’t be sure of anything under the Uranus-Pluto square (see The Longest Arm of the Cross). Except that our old ways of seeing won’t work.
We know too much now.
We know about the lobby system: an institution whereby legalized bribery determines what laws get passed. No doubt most Americans wish they could chalk up the Abramoff scandal to bad-apple exceptionalism; but they know that his outrageous scams were only quantitatively — not qualitatively – different from the hustles that occur on Capitol Hill every day of the week.
Despite varying degrees of denial — which covers a broad spectrum in this society of unevenly informed citizens – Americans by and large understand quite well that their politicians are sponsored by business interests. Especially after last year’s Citizen’s United ruling, where the Supreme Court wiped out any last vestige of limitations on corporate campaign contributions, it has become well-nigh impossible for the public to sustain any illusions about the role of Mammon in national elections. It is painfully obvious to most Americans that a candidate proposing deep-structure change, like Ralph Nader or Barbara Lee or Dennis Kucinich, would never be allowed to occupy anything other than a marginal position in the system as it is.
We may bitterly complain about it, ruefully accept it, or succumb to soul-numbing apathy about it. But we can’t really tell ourselves it isn’t true. Not any more. Not when the most appallingly cynical realities get thrust in our faces every day; such as political parties talking about “branding“ and “re-branding” themselves. It is by now such a commonplace to talk about elections as if they were just one more facet of American capitalism that the public has become inured to it. Most probably find it hard to imagine there was ever a time when elected officials were not spoken of as products for sale.
Americans have come to expect disingenuous positions from their representatives, not sincere beliefs. We don’t bat an eye when Newt Gingrich calls for bombing Libya and then, as soon as the opposition agrees with him, promptly comes out against it. We don’t go slack-jawed with incredulity when we hear Senator McCain vote against the very bill he himself sponsored a few months before. We understand and accept all this as the rules of the big exorbitant game.
But we can’t have it both ways. That is, we can’t (not without inviting a cognitive disorder, anyway) be aware of the current rules of the game and at the same time rely on personality politics. We can no longer kid ourselves that anything less than a systemic approach will help us negotiate the critical cultural shifts of the Cardinal Cross years.
Of course, personality politix is sexier. We like the emotional buzz of identifying with our candidate’s presumed moral standards; we feel validated by condemning his rival’s repugnance. We like assessing our guy’s tan, debating style, interest in basketball. And we very much like comparing our opinion with what others think. Thus our obsession with polls; like in high school, when we couldn’t be sure our outfit looked good until we knew whether all the other girls liked it.
It’s not as much fun to listen to experts — from whom we might actually learn something — discuss a politician’s actions or voting record. We’d rather not think about what special interests are in his corner and why.
But which perspective tells us more about what we need to know?
A system that is riddled with rot must be transformed. To do that, we need to do two things. We need to adopt a perspective that can look at our political system as an entirety. Then, we need to face the truth of what we’re seeing.
This is when magic happens. In energetic law, facing the truth and transformation amount to the same thing.