-- why I've been instinctively tuning out the campaign coverage and involuntarily shunning the political blogosphere. I've been avoiding Obama Fatigue like the plague.
When I can bring myself to watch a bit of it, like Kerry vs. Lieberman on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, I find it at once unbearably demoralizing and exactly as it should be. (Cue chorus: "That's why they call it AmbivaBlog!") These two cancel out, and so I have nothing to say. It's all theater: the cunning low blows on both sides, the pious indignation at the other guy's low blows on both sides. Lots of "I'm shocked! shocked!" Nobody's really shocked. This is a fight to the death for power and the distribution of wealth. It is about ideology only to the extent that ideologies are masks for interests. Of course each contender is going to do whatever it takes to win, within the vague and shifting limits set by public revulsion. The race gloves are going to come off. The age gloves are going to come off. Depending on your -- my -- mood, I can enjoy particularly clever moves in the contest (McCain's Britney/Paris ad was a shrewd move, and it hit a sore spot) or I can be sickened by the total insincerity, the calculated theatricality of the whole spectacle. There are times when I find myself liking one or the other or both candidates and being saddened by the unrelenting vitriol that's spat at and about them. And other times when I think, Good! We test our candidates like gladiators. Whichever one is left standing might just be tough enough for the job.
UPDATE: I've been thinking more about the cynical-sounding statement "ideologies are masks for interests." One of my mottos is, oddly enough, from Karl Marx: "The conditions of existence determine consciousness." Now, Marx was a strict materialist and I think he went too far; it is possible to change the conditions of existence by first changing one's consciousness. But like all bootstrap operations, it is rare. On the whole, on this one limited point, Marx was more right than wrong. The reason why I was so struck by that statement is because the conditions of my existence have varied so drastically, and my consciousness has changed with them. And I have had friends all up and down the socioeconomic scale, from the vastly wealthy to the penniless, and have observed at second hand the truth of the statement. The belief I held before, that we freely choose our outlook on life, was determined by the conditions of upper-middle-class existence.
So, to put it as crudely as possible: the rich don't want to be taxed; the poor want more handouts; and everybody in between is trying to figure out whether life is better for them (us) under the frankly powerful or under those whose power derives from purporting to represent the interests of the powerless.
Any one of those arguments can be prettied up. The rich feel they are entitled to the fruits of their smarts and their undeniable labors (and the fruits of the fruits of their fruits). To the extent that they acknowledge a debt to the "social capital" provided them by society, they prefer to tax themselves in the form of philanthropy (which is becoming all the rage again) than to have money involuntarily confiscated by a government that is going to steal some of it and waste most of the rest. The poor feel they are victims of circumstance and of the undeniable vicious cycle whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. They often exist in a state of learned helplessness, so overwhelmed by the futility of effort and so tempted by the relief of immediate pleasures that they can hardly make a start at getting out of the trap. Doing so requires work as hard as that of the most dedicated CEO, for far smaller and more uncertain rewards, and with infinitely less preparation and training.
The middle class wants their kids to be safe. And they don't want to feel guilty about what they have. Generally speaking, the upper middle class meets that need on the left, the lower middle (or working) class and its successful offspring on the right. (The working class per se doesn't have enough to feel guilty about; the traditional working class has spawned a new class of sales, construction, and real estate millionaires who have no doubt that they worked hard for what they have, with no head start except for the social capital of traditional values. Also, the closer you have been to the poor, the less you romanticize them or want to be identified with them.)