Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A late-night tertiary primary post

Larry Lessig has been doing some brilliant blogging about the horse race (a development that has apparently been in line with a re-focusing of his intellectual efforts -- from copyright issues to corruption in politics).

Here's a recent post (pre-South Carolina) that makes a number of insightful points. F'r'instance:

Let's start with the disappointment: Debates are not Obama's forte. If he were running for Prime Minister, I'd have second thoughts. I can't understand why he isn't better prepared for the obvious exchange that was going to happen. It took way too long to get to (w/r/t the Reagan absurdity): "I obviously don't agree with his ideas and never said I did, and indeed, I worked against them." It took way too long to get to (w/r/t the "present vote" issue): "In the US Senate, voting present would be bad Senatoring. In the Illinois Senate, it is how the system works. My 180 votes out of 4000 is just the same as ...." And w/r/t health care, he never got to "my plan IS universal because it is made available, in an affordable way, to everyone. I just don't believe in fining poor people. I believe in helping them." Again and again, the echo of Obama's message was "it's legitimate for us to disagree about ..." What good is that line doing -- especially given the completely illegitimate charges raised against him by HRC? Someone has go sit him down and force him to spit back 10 second responses to these questions. It isn't rocket science. It is practice and training.

Who better to pick up on this sort of thing than a lawyer? (Oh, wait, Obama was a lawyer too...)

Anyway, after further explicating a few of last week's more astounding Clinton fibs, Lessig wraps things up with these observations:

We've heard this about the Clintons from the start: they would do anything. But watching her utter words she knows are false, or words which even if technically true, create a plainly false impression, was, again, disgusting. Just how small is this person now apparently leading the Democrats? Just how small have we become?

Now of course I am totally open to the charge of naivete. But I don't think it just naivete. When you think about all the virtues that Obama plainly has over HRC -- indeed, in some ways, the Reaganesque ability to inspire, set a vision, speak across divides, etc. -- this cheapness feels different. The loss seems greater.

I might quibble with the word "naivete" here -- as someone who has argued before the Supreme Court, and helped to spearhead a movement that routinely challenges the assumptions (if not the actions) of some of the most powerful forces on earth -- Lessig has probably had to wrestle with more than his share of ugly realities. Doing so does not require naivete, but something more like "passionate idealism."

What a strange concept, that! Especially for a cynic like me. And especially in the early years of a century like this.

Yet I too find myself entertaining the possibility of cultural and political optimism when I consider the Obama candidacy. It's not quite a "last fifteen minutes of Return of the Jedi" moment -- but I find myself imagining that we may actually make it out of this mess yet.

Why? Could it be desperation? Perhaps. In any case, it's deeper than the buzzwords of "change" or "hope" or "political outsider" -- though those are relevant. For me, it comes down to the question of tone.

In music -- as in many other areas of expression -- tone is crucial. Of course, "getting the notes right" is important too, regardless of whether they are "your" notes (in an improvisation, say) or you're reading them off somebody else's page. But tone is the sine qua non of personality, emotion, individuality, narrative. Tone is what makes sound sing. (Of course, it's also frustratingly difficult to quantify.)

Is it naive (or delusional) to try and imagine a new mood for this fucking country? Doesn't everything start with the imagination?

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