Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Political Science

Now that Mr. Bush has survived his colonoscopy without serious brain damage, as many had feared, attention returns to the question of the succession. Between innings of the Red Sox game I flipped to CNN to find coverage of the presidential campaign in South Carolina.

Rudolph Giuliani, I learned, is leading in the Republic Party primary polls in spite of his "moderate" positions on social issues* because conservative Republicans "admire his record on terrorism." Rudolph Giuliani has a "record on terrorism"? I don't even know what that's supposed to mean. But evidently conservative Republicans have collectively hallucinated that he has one, and whatever they imagine it to be, they admire it. The reporter, of course, did not trouble to explain what Giuliani's "record on terrorism" is, or is imagined to be.

I believe in democracy, and I believe that ordinary people should be able to decide who governs them. But it just isn't working in the present cultural and technological context. It hasn't often worked very well in the U.S., actually, so I'm not nostalgic for some golden age. But I do think the television has further falsified people's consciousness, and that it is ever harder for the mass culture to distinguish symbolism -- and often not even anything that rises to the level of symbol, but just attitude and vague associations -- from reality. Those images flicker by faster and faster, one after another, and they don't tell a story or make an argument, they just are, each of them a universe in itself, evoking synaptic networks of association without having to actually mean anything.

Hence Rudolph Giuliani has a "record on terrorism" because he happened to be the Mayor of New York when those guys flew airplanes in the World Trade Center, and even though he completely screwed up everything to do with preparedness before the fact and the response afterwards, he sounded like a tough guy on TV. That may be all it takes to be president.

*He doesn't want gay people to be allowed to marry, or to have protections against discrimination, but he does want to sponge off them when his wife throws him out of the house; and he promises to appoint judges who will make abortion illegal, even though he doesn't agree with them. That makes him a moderate.

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