Archive for July, 2010

21
Jul
10

CN Column 07/23/10: Pay much attention to the men behind the empty campaign slogans

A political narrative is a political narrative is a political narrative. And each one is, in the now-famous words of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, “a vapid and hollow charade.” Yes, Kagan was describing the SCOTUS nomination process and not political campaigns; then again, her nomination hearings have proven to be nothing more than venues for lawmakers to flex their rhetorical brawn even while they attempt, unsuccessfully, to dust off what might remain of their atrophied Ivy-League intellects.

Point being, those hearings—not to mention the languid committee interrogations of popular anti-heroes like BP CEO Tony Haywood and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein—are echo chambers and nothing more. Empty, meaningless stageplays, just like every political narrative that sweeps voters into an ideological tizzy each election cycle.

Petty abstractions about hope and change won voters’ hearts in 2008; many argue the prevalent anti-establishment, conservative popular mood, laced though it may be in some cases with ire, fear and disillusionment, will win out in 2010, and again, ultimately, in 2012—the reprisal of 1994’s “Gingrich Revolution,” and then some.

I’m not so sure, but we’ll see.

One thing is for sure: I’m quite dumbstruck, as election season heats up, by the inanity of some candidates’ campaign platforms—vague and insipid by necessity, perhaps, but vague and insipid nonetheless.

Last week, Tom Foley, prospective Republican gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut, sat in for an interview with WNPR’s John Dankosky on “Where We Live.” Dankosky took Foley to task, demanding specifics—getting none, of course—challenging the former ambassador’s often flimsy presumptions and presiding over a healthy public forum with callers.

Foley presumes the state’s budget crisis will be solved by slashing spending, not by coaxing more revenues into state coffers. He may be right when he contends Connecticut’s government is rife with “wasteful or duplicate spending’—though, of course, when asked, Foley could single out no concrete example of said wasteful or duplicate spending. What a surprise.

And I had to laugh out loud when a caller lamented the records of Connecticut’s recent GOP governors and started to say, “If I have to listen to one more Republican making the same stupid, vague …” before the host cut him off.

Foley also appears to nurture a bit of a selective memory about the John Rowland scandal, and seems quite content with the increasing trend toward wealthy candidates (like himself) spending their way onto party tickets—both stories for another day.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest Republicans are the only ones guilty of ambiguity on the campaign trail, or the only ones making vacuous suggestions along the way. In fact, if I may channel the aforementioned caller, I’ll put it bluntly: If I have to hear one more empty suit making the same stupid, vague appeals to that oh-so-subtle thing called “common sense”—arguably the scarcest commodity in the statehouse and Washington D.C.—and “efficiency,” I’m going to start banging my head against a wall and not stop until I’m the president.

Anyhow.

Look at hopeful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, who seems confident the best way to close a $4 billion state budget gap is to sit in a room and, uh, negotiate cordially with, you know, um, unspecified stakeholders.

Interesting theory, Ned. Maybe after you secure tough concessions from the Connecticut Education Association, one of your endorsers, simply by having a nice, friendly powwow, its leaders will buy you a banana split with rainbow sprinkles made from real rainbows (mmm!), it will start raining $1,000 bills and all the nebulous pillow-talk about “fundamentally reforming government” will actually mean something.

That will be the day, but I digress.

I’ll also point out, for the record, that Lamont seemingly lacks the fortitude to face his closest contender for the nomination, Dan Malloy—a candidate with superior experience who has been endorsed by the Democratic state convention—in a televised debate. Lamont claims he doesn’t want to get sidetracked from his avowed goal of meeting more people.

Right.

To be fair, he also decried the format of a moderated debate as one that results in “one-minute sound bites,” noting that such remarks are “not very revealing.” Maybe so, but I’d bet my last dollar they’d be more revealing than the platitudes Lamont and every other politician on God’s green earth spews relentlessly in their campaign ads.

It seems everyone has his or her own “plan” with a view to healing the economy, creating jobs and restoring the quality of life in Connecticut and, indeed, in America. The inconvenient truth each one seems to leave out is that it’s all a crapshoot anyway; none of them actually has a plan with any substance, and even if he did, he’d never get the chance to set it in motion because every force—every special interest, every crooked suit and every hopelessly bloated, bureaucratic committee and subcommittee and sub-subcommittee festering in a liminal state of inertia—is acting against him.

I spoke earlier about the disillusionment of the populist movement sweeping the nation, and I now realize I sound quite cynical myself. Lest I seem like a hypocrite, I’ll submit I’m not entirely disenchanted. Not quite yet.

I still have hope for our future; I just know something has to change, and in a big way—not just from left to right, but from backward and inside-out to forward and rightside-in.

And my gut—yes, my common sense, because down here on planet Earth we still have some of that left—tells me that “vapid and hollow” political narratives will never right our foundering ship.