I was leaving for Ft. Worth early Wednesday morning and, although I did not turn on the radio, watch television, or buy a newspaper, “the news was out all over town” and impossible to evade, even though I have avoided the media ever since. Yesterday, my wife asked me to listen for the weather on our local NPR channel. I asked her to bet how long it would take for Obama to come up on Morning Edition. As it turned out, white antipathy to the nonwhite president was the topic under discussion. Try it yourself. I defy anyone to listen to or watch the news for five minutes without hearing the sacred name invoked. (This morning, Obama was deferred for several minutes by a story on Orthodox Jews.)
In the airports I expected to see jubilation, something like the scene in a Marx Brothers movie where the children all follow Harpo singing and exulting down the garden path. It all seemed quite normal, though when I went to Ft. Worth i met an old friend, an African-American Episcopalian, who told me over drinks that everyone must defer to him now. He was joking–as a Christian he could not possibly vote for the man who wants his daughter to have the right to kill his grandchild, as he has said explicitly. But, I fear, the joke may be reality for many people. “Bottom rail on top now.”
The big election news in Texas came from Baylor, a Baptist university where some students burned Obama posters on election night. Baylor’s president said he would not tolerate such racism. So, there it is: Any criticism of Obama for any reason is racism. Many Americans may be thinking, better be hanged for a sheep than for a goat.
The reaction in Europe is mostly a sigh of relief, though I did receive from a French friend in Paris the following palindrome devised by an academic colleague: Non amabo . That is about the best comment I have heard. On the off chance that we have a Latinless reader, non amabo means I shall not love and read backwards, Obama non, means Obama no. I think we should sell t-shirts and bumper stickers and yard signs. Who will be first to subscribe?
Meanwhile, the “conservatives” are showing their true colors. McCain’s big mistake was appealing to pro-life sentiments and trying to refight the culture war. In fact, just the opposite is probably true. Exit polling indicated that as many as 20% of self-described conservative voters did not vote for McCain. If you add to that number, all the conservatives who, like me, simply did not bother to vote, McCain might have been elected if he were perceived as more conservative. Why did McCain lose? He lost because Republicans were stupid enough to pick him in the primaries. Both the primaries and the election constitute all the proof we need that the electoral process in the US guarantees the election of the worst possible men.
I should be happy over Obama’s victory because, as predicted, the Dow has soared, and I have recovered all the money George Bush stole from my retirement account.
In his History of Florence , Machiavelli comments on the excitement that attended the election of Nicolo Soderini as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia during the regime of Piero the Gouty, son of Cosimo and father of Lorenzo de’ Medici: “By this and many examples of the same nature, it is evident how inconvenient it is to enter upon the magistracy or government with more than ordinary acclamation; for not being able to perform as is expected (and for the most part more is required). The People abate of their esteem and come by degrees to despise you.
I would bet that the first defectors will be the white middle class and blue collar workers who turned in despair to the messaiah’s promise of salvation; next may come the disillusioned African-Americans and peaceniks, when they realize he cannot or will not keep his promises. Last or perhaps never the stupid white professionals whose hatred of our country, religion, culture, people, and life itself brought us to this degradation.
But what did we expect? Americans have been running after gurus for nearly a century. We have always been told that Father Abraham was a national savior who could not be bound by the constitution. Voters of my parents’ generation made FDR a virtual dictator for life–thank goodness their medicine was so primitive in the 1940’s. Then came JFK and Camelot, and, after 20 years in the wilderness, conservatives found their own messaiah in Ronald Reagan. As long as Americans keep searching for leaders, they are condemned to be followers–all the way over the cliff.
Then what is to be done in these dark times? I was asked this question during a round table discussion in Texas. I gave my usual answer, which is, nothing and everything, that is nothing in the way of political action until we can be sure of pragmatic results and everything we must do to lead good leaves during any time. I used the example of early Christians who did not run around protesting infanticide or denouncing the Empire–a position, by the way, that distinguished them form Stoic hotheads, who virtually demanded to be executed by Vespasian. A young father responded by saying there was no public education, in those days, to destroy the minds and souls of children. I asked him if there was a state law in Texas requiring Christian parents to send their kids to public schools. His question illustrates a common tendency among even the best sort of people today: They want to continue to imagine that the system can be fixed, which would relieve them of the terrible burden of living life every day as if we were serious in our professions.
Yes, there is an opportunity for political reorganization among conservatives who may have learned a few lessons from the past 25 years. Lesson one is to stick to your own people and, generically speaking, your own religion. Making common cause with atheist-materialists, Nietzscheans, Muslims, and other non-Christians is futile and self-destructive. Lesson number two is to plan for hte long-term. When Goldwater went down in flames in 1964, it took four presidential terms for conservatives to be able to field a presidential candidate in the GOP. It was thanks to people like Bill Rusher, working for 20 years, that Ronald Reagan–for whatever that was worth-got elected. Conservative activists today want the world and they want it now. Since the 1960’s we have all been infantile in demanding instant gratification. The result of precipitous action, of following the motto “something must be done” would be something like Sarah Palin under the control of the neoconservatives. Murray Rothbard, a doomed political activist, used to say that liberals were always looking for a problem so they could say, “we can’t stand idly by.” To which Murray would, in his inimitable manner–somewhere between a shriek and a cackle–cry out, “Why can’t we.”
Let me conclude with the words of an obscure poet in a verse satire on photography:
Nothing remains to hold against the rage:
our soldiers do not fight nor bishops pray.
Painting and music? Another lame excuse
for living badly, staying out of touch.
Not even Jeffers’ mountains look that good,
their wilderness is tamed by taxes, roads.
Then what is left, good health and half your wits–
the code of athletes and couples without kids,
who have two incomes and no fear of death?
Recite this pledge: I will forget myself,
forget the broken hearts and Ph.D.’s who’ve taught
the young to hate the world, the flesh, and God;
I’ll plant flowers, love my wife as she grows gray,
and make some Baptist teach me how to pray;
give up on cameras and on everything
that I shall someday grieve to leave behind.
I will ignore the symptoms of my disease,
and–spouting green the Spring–go paint the trees
not as they seem but as they first were made
and await the second coming of the Word.