Aperture Magazine: Presidential Countdown
Republican BBQ, Lafayette, CA 08/16/08. Photo by Allen Spore
David Levi Strauss, Aperture magazine contributing editor, noted writer, and current Chair of MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, shares his unique perspective on the current political landscape.
September 11, 2008: This Is a Test
Lipstick on pigs. Comprehensive sex education for four-year-olds. Sarah’s secrets vs. Joe’s loose cannon. John’s temper vs. Barack’s celebrity.
The high scream of Distraction Culture wrapping itself tighter and tighter around the still turning point of the body politic is deafening, now. We can no longer hear ourselves, let alone others, think. D.C. never sleeps, never takes a breath, never blinks. Its imperative is speed, and it is relentless in its pursuit of . . . fuel. If it ever slows down, as it did on this day seven years ago, its moving parts become visible, and people begin to wake up and look around, beyond the Machine.
That was a dangerous time, and a time of great opportunity, politically. Unfortunately, the Democrats were caught flat-footed, having already walked away from a stand-off in Florida and ceded the field to reactionaries, who turned out to be terrifyingly unprepared to govern, but remarkably well-prepared in Machine maintenance and fuel issues. They advised us to “Get back to work, and your work is consumption.” Consumption and distraction.
The standard excuse for Americans letting happen what they have over the past 7 years is that they were scared, and when people are scared you can get them to do almost anything you want, and get away with it. Distraction becomes a obsession, and politicians who interrupt it risk serious, even violent abreactions.
In this Tortoise & Hare race, the old man who can’t send an email and the past mayor of a sleepy Alaskan town are running on the Speed & Distraction ticket, while the skinny fast forward who suddenly became a global star and the fast-talking senator are running on the Slow Down & Think ticket.
As the clock ticks down, this election looks more and more like a final test of American democracy. If American voters pass the test, nothing will be solved, but the slow work of reconstruction can at least begin. If we fail, time may have finally run out on this noble experiment.
Filed on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008, after Sarah Palin with Charles Gibson, Barack Obama with David Letterman, and the ceremonies at Ground Zero.