One of the missed opportunities of the primary season was that Hillary Clinton never gave a speech about gender comparable to Barack Obama’s speech about race.I know that picking off op-ed columnists for their various fatuities is as easy as taking out a country mailbox with a baseball bat, but sometimes, Lord, sometimes, that lean out the window and that wind in your hair and then that tilt of the car on the dip and bend on Farm Road makes that minor act of vandalism a benediction for the coming-in of summer.
That was understandable: She didn’t want to be reduced to the “woman candidate.” But such a speech might have triggered a useful national conversation about women in leadership, and so, Mr. Obama, now it’s up to you: Why don’t you give that speech? I’m helpfully offering some talking points. [Etc. Etc. Oh Lord. Etc. Grimace. Collapse. Exit, pursued by bear.]
-Nicholas D. Kissoff
It may be unfair to criticize a man for the idiomatic strangeness of certain political-English clichés, but the whole "national conversation" bit is worth a closer read. As metonymy, it's meant more or less to mean water-cooler chat as mediated by the nightly news and the daily papers, which is, I suppose, exactly the sort of self-absorbed yet unreflective mush you'd expect from a high functionary at a major state newspaper. The idea that speeches by politicians somehow ready the mucky masses for whole, fuckin', epistemic shifts, man, is on the far fringes of looniness, no less crazy than the time I ate too many mushrooms and allowed my friend to convince me that the fountain at Point State Park represented on of the two cap points of the true axis mundi, and that by plunging my hands into its waters I would be in immediate psychic, empathic contact with every living human on earth.
In fact, that incident is instructive, for I was no more able to peer into each of your lonely, atomized souls and fill you with love, fellow-feeling, and sympathy for all creatures, despite the fact that I was quickly on my knees with my hands in the pool, eyes closed, head bowed reverently, than Barack Obama was able to alter one iota the disposition of our society vis-à-vis its racial minorities or gender majority--or, maybe I should say, the disposition of power in our society toward blacks or spanish-speaking immigrants or, Juno knows, women.
Nevertheless, there persists in the public writings and utterances of the Mediator class a heartfelt and sincere belief that if a ruling annointed manages eloquence on a subject, substantive or no, and cable picks it up, all our voices will rise together like Babel in reverse, and some kind of consensus of three hundred million will occur, and through force of feeling the crooked will be set straight, the narrow made wide, the Lion will lay with the Lamb, the Seal with the Penguin, the Cow will jump over the moon, Yogi will return the picnic basket to Ranger, Kumbaya.
That is all, as Mencken liked to say, palpably untrue. Barack Obama gave a speech on race, recall. Insofar as he speaks English with native fluency, it certainly exceeded the rhetorical abilities of the rest of our Ionescan politicians, and most of their media interlocutors besides. And it seems very, very likely at this point that he will soon be the President of the United States, and what I want to know is when Barack Obama is going to decriminalize first and legalize second the narcotics trade? What is he going to do to enfranchise the underground economies that sustain "inner cities"? How is he going to reach into the spoiled hearts of tens of thousands of corrupt, racist, or just-jerks-in-general police across America? How can he effectuate the return of small business to the urban core, and the repopulation of city neighborhoods in Detroit and Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Do you know that Pittsburgh is the most livable city in America? Yet curiously enough, Pittsburgh has one of the highest black homicide rates in the whole nation. So: livable for whom? And just what is Barack Obama's speechmaking doing about that?
Now even if the history of white antipathy and discrimination toward blacks in the United States has a long and sordid history with roots going back hundreds of years into the earliest era of European colonialism, then the wars with the Moors over Iberia, and before, then it's nevertheless a baby compared to the ten-thousand-years-since-the-advent-of-stationary-communities-and-agriculture patriarchy, and it's almost shocking, even with what I know about op-ed columnists, to hear that anyone supposes a rousing speech is going to undo the transcivilizational recorded history of our species. Well, let's be fair. That's not what he's talking about. Kristof figures maybe the presidential coattails can sweep some more women into office, into the Cabinet, wherever, and thus will our statistics accord more pleasingly with, whatever, the Continent. Once again: zero effect on the daily, lived lives of women, and yet a comfortable salve, I suppose, for a certain kind of bien-pensant bourgeoisie.
The power of oratory is seriously overrated. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. Sure, uh, thing honey, just, uh--fuck, take a shot on goal, you assholes!--wait until the--shit!--next commercial, kay?