Try as I might, I find it impossible to get so worked up about the New Zealand election. Perhaps, as an immigrant, this is because I lack the visceral connection to the country that makes strong men weep when they see All Blacks lined up, clutching each other in a heterosexually approved way during the national anthem. Or perhaps it all feels a bit small and unimportant, dwarfed by the American election, the credit crunch, the ongoing Hell of the War on Terror. Or perhaps I can't find enough in the current contest to get angry about - its hard to feel appropriate ire when your confronted with choices as banally rubbish as Clark's Labour and Key's National.
Right-wingers of the Bush-Rove ilk have had a tough time finding a human face to put on their failed, inhuman, mean-as-hell policies. But it was hard not to recognize the genius of wedding that faltering brand of institutionalized greed to the image of the suburban American supermom. It's the perfect cover, for there is almost nothing in the world meaner than this species of provincial tyrant. Palin herself burned this political symbiosis into the pages of history with her seminal crack about the "difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick," blurring once and for all the lines between meanness on the grand political scale as understood by the Roves and Bushes of the world, and meanness of the small-town variety as understood by pretty much anyone who has ever sat around in his ranch-house den dreaming of a fourth plasma-screen TV or an extra set of KC HiLites for his truck, while some ghetto family a few miles away shares a husk of government cheese.
In her speech, Palin presented herself as a raging baby-making furnace of middle-class ambition next to whom the yuppies of the Obama set -who never want anything all that badly except maybe a few afternoons with someone else's wife, or a few kind words in The New York Times Book Review -- seem like weak, self-doubting celibates, the kind of people who certainly cannot be trusted to believe in the right God or to defend a nation. We're used to seeing such blatant cultural caricaturing in our politicians. But Sarah Palin is something new. She's all caricature. As the candidate of a party whose positions on individual issues are poll losers almost across the board, her shtick is not even designed to sell a line of policies. It's just designed to sell her. The thing was as much as admitted in the on-air gaffe by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who was inadvertently caught saying on MSNBC that Palin wasn't the most qualified candidate, that the party "went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives."
The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains. Sure, there was politics in the Palin speech, but it was all either silly lies or merely incidental fluffery buttressing the theatrical performance.
So, sure, Barack Obama might be every bit as much a slick piece of imageering as Sarah Palin. The difference is in what the image represents. The Obama image represents tolerance, intelligence, education, patience with the notion of compromise and negotiation, and a willingness to stare ugly facts right in the face, all qualities we're actually going to need in government if we're going to get out of this huge mess we're in.
Here's what Sarah Palin represents: being a fat fucking pig who pins "Country First" buttons on his man titties and chants "U-S-A! U-S-A!" at the top of his lungs while his kids live off credit cards and Saudis buy up all the mortgages in Kansas. (1)
(Before anyone gets enraged what a mere immigrant is saying about New Zealand and New Zealanders, two things. First, stuff you. I'm gonig to say it anyway. Second, everything I say could also be said of Britain, where Brown's Labour Party and Cameron's Conservatives are cut from the same bland, gray cloth.)
In a way, this dismal situation tells us as much about New Zealand (or Britain, for those still grappling with import of the last paragraph), as the Palin candidacy does about the U.S.A. New Zealand has lost its ideological edges, and with it the individual's sense of how he or she fits into the bigger scheme. Call it society, community, class, whatever. It's gone.
Like the Americans ruthlessly caricatured as dim goons cheering on 'their' candidate, New Zealand is a country where the electorate are befuddled - though here the result seems to be a blurring of party and ideological boundaries, as both major parties contend that they are really pretty much the same, only better than the other team. No-one here really gets excited enough to cheer about politicians. At most they might do it in the hope of getting on the News, and subjected to a bit of gentle mockery for taking it all so seriously.
Our Palin-loathing friend sums up why he feels such rage her lurid bid for power, driven upwards by the tribal recognition of narcisstic boors who want to see a dim, reactionary puppet as Vice-President (as if eight years of having a dim, reactionary puppet in the top job wasn't enough), all so they can feel represented and empowered in some pathetic way:
... the most disgusting thing about her is what she says about us: that you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we'll not only thank you for your trouble, we'll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot for a few hours around election time. (2)And what does our own dismally gray election slate tell us? That we, as a nation, don't care. As a nation, we no longer have a clue about history or politics or how our choices matter, and as a result, our political parties have evolved to suit our tastes.
It's a weird relationship where the paplable disinterest of voters prompts politicians to be less interesting and to offer fewer reasons to vote for them. It isn't just the electorate who are befuddled and sheeplike. The parties have also forgotten - or simply, cynically jettisoned - the principles that informed them at their inception. They no longer seek votes, they passivel try not to frighten them away by being too interesting, hoping that the electorate will blunder their way this time, or take a visceral dislike to something about the other candidate, or be attracted, for a few minutes, by a nice, shiny new leader or some empty soundbite about 'trust,' or 'Change.'
There is no Barack Obama here, nor can there be - he's too interesting. As described above, he might be a superficial, edia construct without substance, but the empty shell is one that people who WANT something different and exciting are responding to. If something like Obama evolved here, the party caucus would run screaming for fear of spooking the voters, who are nicely lined up (though perhaps, every time, a few less than before), lowing dully, to be herded into the voting booths to make their mark and choose a government that has all the individuality and charisma of an police photofit image.
All of this should make me angry, of course, but it doesn't. If the Labour Party can sign a free trade deal with the most reprehensible regime on the planet, and the National party's only response is to mutter quietly, "Damn, wish we'd managed to do that," the whole show is screwed. Which means there is precious little to get excited about within the political mainstream. And while a bitter contempt for both parties might be a reasonable response, it isn't one that can be expanded, profitably, for much longer than I have done so here.
So enjoy the rage of smrikingchimp.com. until I find a reason to say something other than, "Screw the lot of you," to our indistingushably crap political pygmies.
1 - "The scariest thing about Sarah Palin isn't how unqualified she is - it's what her candidacy says about America," posted by Matt Taibbi on smirkingchimp.com, 27th of September, 2008. (http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/17504)