Lessening Political Addictions
November 3, 2008
My brain’s a self-flogged chunk of meat and my nerves tight because the Electoral College is an undemocratic and grievous institution that, to understand, requires daily tracking of polls in critical states. Tabulating popular votes would be fair and easy, but the system insists it’s better to stew about who’ll get winner-grab-all electoral votes and be first to two hundred seventy. No one forced me to undertake this obsessive task. I’m capitulating only because the internet is so tempting, like chocolate.
John McCain probably isn’t going to defeat Barack Obama on November fourth, but even if he does I’m not going to worry anymore. I’m tired of grinding over what candidates are doing and may do. In the future I’ll simply cast my vote and remember that spending much time on contemporary politics consumes the soul. It’s more soothing to study a little history. Lyndon Johnson angered me when I was an adolescent but he’s long been just a fascinating dead man. Once this Bush is out of office a generation, many will find him congenial to read about.
Last night I grabbed my burned-brown-by-age 1981 pocket paperback of Norman Mailer’s Cannibals and Christians originally published in 1966 and that I’d first read in a library in the mid-70’s. I knew I’d enjoy revisiting his essay about the 1964 Republican National Convention. From San Francisco Mailer reminded us that during the California primary rich Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York, had been opposed by the unusually ardent supporters of front-running Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. When Rockefeller spoke for ten reluctantly-granted minutes in the cavernous old Cow Palace, righteous conventioneers booed him for lamenting that “extremist elements” had made “threats of physical violence,” unpleasant phone calls, disseminated “smear and hate” literature, and used “strong-arm and goon tactics.” These maneuvers had been effective; Rockefeller finished third. So far as I’ve determined during internet overexposure, the current candidate from Arizona has been a bit more restrained.
Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania, the 1964 runner-up, standing at the podium and anxious to concede, was cheered “modestly” by delegates who recalled Scranton’s recent comments that Goldwater was “dangerously impulsive” and “spreading havoc across the national landscape” and showed “a cruel misunderstanding of how the American economy works” and was “injurious to innumerable candidates” and created “chaos and uproar (by) talking off the top of his head.” Scranton, presumably, could not have also been referring to the current Republican nominee, who was then but a dashing and reckless naval pilot in his late twenties.
Arizonan’s original bellicose senator had stated this in a May 1964 article in the New York Post: “There have been several suggestions made (regarding Vietnam.) I don’t think we would use any of them. But defoliation of the forests by low-yield atomic weapons could well be done. When you remove the foliage, you remove the coverage.”
Barry Goldwater had the vision the Republicans wanted, and in his acceptance speech he said: “Now my fellow Americans, the tide has been running against freedom. Our people have followed false prophets… We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of freedom… Every breath and every heartbeat has but a single resolve, and that is freedom… Tonight there is violence in our streets, corruption in our highest offices, aimlessness among our youth, anxiety among our elderly… despair among the many who look beyond material success toward the inner meaning of their lives.”
As Goldwater continued to speak – and he should have stopped – Mailer noted that his voice “grew barren” and he began selling fear of communists as many politicians today peddle terroristic doom. “Half the pigs, bullies, and cowards of the twentieth century had made their fortune on that fear,” wrote Mailer.
Barry Goldwater’s rhetorical journey erupted with this phrase: “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice… Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Lyndon Johnson, who would crush Goldwater in November, could have made that statement. Ditto Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.
Mailer concluded: “The wars are coming and the deep revolutions of the soul.”