The Real ’08 Election Frame: Seduction
It may be fitting in a peculiar way that the first columnist to tell the truth about the presidential race is a tv critic.
Heather Havrilesky writes about television for Salon magazine, and her latest column starts this way:
America has been feeling pretty impotent lately. The march of freedom screeched to a halt a long time ago, and we’ve got a feeble grip on our national identity. After decades of fancying ourselves sexy and invincible, we’re suddenly scrutinizing our teeth in the mirror and second-guessing the Ultrasuede loafers we once thought were so cool.
Thankfully, a new presidential race is heating up, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Who better to put the spring back in our step, than a brand-new lover, one who loves absolutely everything about us, from our stubborn independence to our somewhat delusional egocentrism? With pulpit-pounding conviction and an openly flirtatious grin, our new suitors say they see past the bald spot and the ill-fitting pants, they remember when we were young and brash, when we grabbed the world by the throat and had our way with it.
Hillary flatters us endlessly, Obama gives us long, moony, “Endless Love” gazes, and John charms our socks off. But which of these courtly callers will make us feel like our old virile, bossy selves again? The candidate who can soothe our egos, woo us out of this self-hating stupor and make us feel strong and special again will win the big prize!
She’s absolutely right. The ’08 election isn’t going to be about the Second Gulf War and occupation of Iraq or the economy stupid or the destruction of the Constitution or the general mess the Bush presidency has made of America and its wholesale violation of American values for the sake of enriching the already rich. It isn’t going to be about who has the best plan to clean up the mess or is the most likely to restore our rights or has the stones to put the corporatocracy in its place.
For better or worse (probably not better), it’s going to be about who makes us feel good about ourselves again, who can make us once again believe we are the best nation in the world and that everything we’ve done, even when it was hopelessly wrong, was done from the purest of motives. The candidate who can convince us that we were never bamboozled by the Bushies, that we didn’t collude in our own destruction through laziness and intense credulity, that we’re still “sexy and invincible”, the candidate who makes love to us by telling us everything we want to hear and avoids the truth as if it was a wasting, communicable disease, that’s the candidate who will be our next president.
At root, Havrilesky has hit the nail on the head: since the murder of JFK and the downfall of LBJ because of Viet Nam, that’s how we’ve picked all of our presidents. Whichever candidate most viscerally and categorically promises NOT to make us face any unpleasant facts or look at ourselves in a clean mirror where our faults can’t be hidden, that candidate is the one we’ll go for.
Liberals and progressives have often been puzzled by the election victories of candidates like Nixon and Reagan – especially when they won a second term after showing themselves to be crooks, closet dictators, incompetent, or worse. The answer is Havrilesky’s: they wooed us with lies and false fronts and compliments.
They told us how great we were, they told us we had beautiful eyes and that our best days were still ahead of us, that we were smart and generous and had deep souls. They stroked our hands and put their arms around us and brought us chocolate and flowers and little presents. They told us how much they loved us, that we were the only one in the world for them, that we were meant for each other.
Then they inched us toward the bedroom and as soon as they got what they wanted, they ran off after someone else, breaking every single promise they’d made to us during the Period of Seduction.
If you want the real frame for American presidential elections, forget the mommy/daddy model and start paying attention to the Seduction Model of a guy who wants to get laid chasing a woman he only wants for a one-night stand. It’s all there: the slogans he doesn’t mean, the presents he’ll eventually take back, the calls he’ll stop making once he’s sated, the compliments that will quickly turn to insults, the focus on your every wish that will morph into either an unwillingness to admit your existence or outright abuse. All of which will of course be followed after the break-up by his marriage to someone with a lot more money than you have.
We need to admit to ourselves that a) we want to be loved, b) we want to be flattered, c) we can’t tell the difference between lust and love in our suitors, and d) we need to be more skeptical when we’re being told how wonderful we are by a guy whose eye keeps following every good-looking ass that goes by even when he’s supposed to be in love with us.
The deceit of seduction: pretty lies, empty promises, and endless flattery. We fall for it every time. This time needs to be different. Our latest suitor wrecked the house, stripped our bank account, stole our car, and is suing us for breach of promise and theft.
We can no longer afford the twin luxuries of protracted naivete and baseless optimism. But the chances are, unfortunately, that we will indulge ourselves again in both.