Elections for the me generation

I am not a touchy-feely person. I managed to grow up in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1960s and 1970s without ever feeling the need to join into the narcissistic self-validation that Cyra McFadden so perfectly captured in her 70s classic The Serial, a novel that followed a number of self-involved, self-actualizers in Marin County. This is not to say I’m not self-centered or self-involved — I am. I just have the decency to be embarrassed about those feelings, instead of boastful. It’s small wonder, then, that I don’t like Oprah. Watching her show makes me feel uncomfortable. With all the emotions slopping out, it’s like peeping through someone’s bedroom window — and that’s despite the fact that she compulsively invites people in.

All of this may explain why I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the 2008 President race, which is probably the realistic end point of Bill Clinton’s 1992 “I feel your pain” campaign. The candidates are walking emotions, and the voters are mewling narcissists. Or, as Jonah Goldberg explains:

What Americans really want when they look into a politician’s eyes is to see their own images reflected back, like in Narcissus’ pool. The presidency in particular has become the highest ground in the culture war. Americans want a candidate who validates them personally. “I’m voting for him because he’s a hunter like me.” “I’m backing her because she’s a woman too.” “I’m for that guy because he’s angry like me.” Such sentiments have colored the presidential contest for so long, they’ve saturated it like stain into wood.

“Authenticity” — on which voters supposedly place such a premium — is really just a label put on self-validation. Bill Clinton infamously promised he felt our pain. Hillary Clinton similarly sold her 2000 bid for the Senate by arguing that she was more concerned about the issues that concern New Yorkers than her competitor. Question: Would you prefer a blase surgeon remove your appendix or a very concerned plumber?

On Monday, Hillary Clinton got all choked up campaigning in New Hampshire. “This is very personal for me,” she said of her bid for the presidency, seemingly holding back tears. “It’s not just political. I see what’s happening (in America). We have to reverse it.” Later, she explained that she wanted people to know that she’s a “real person.”

In a sense, this is populism updated for the age of “Oprah” and “Dr. Phil.” Principles and policy details take a back seat to the need to say “there, there — I understand” to voters. As Willie Stark, the populist protagonist of “All the King’s Men,” bellows to the insatiably needy crowds: “Your will is my strength, and your need is my justice.”

Years ago, I attended a Peter, Paul & Mary concert. Noel Paul did a semi-humorous anecdote that stuck with me. He commented on the titles of fluffy magazines at the supermarket checkout stand. They used to be things like Mademoiselle and Glamour and People. Then came Us. Self quickly followed. What next, he asked? A magazine entitled Me which, when happened opened, contains nothing but a shiny foil in which you can admire your reflection? Paul was prescient but he got the forum wrong. It wasn’t in the world of magazines that this was going to happen. In magazines, instead, we got to read about someone else admire her own wonderfulness: Oprah, Martha, Rosie. Nope, it turns out that where the “me” phenomenon hit was the world of politics, and if that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your next stand up with horror, you’ve got nerves of steel.


19 Responses

  1. A Yogism “The future ain’t what it Used to be” as Obama has the audacity for hope !

  2. And we have a big smoking hole in the Manhattan to show for it.

  3. Yeah, the fake “Diner Sob” worked, just like Bill’s Hound-dog Eyes and Bitten Lip.

    Patton was wrong: America doesn’t love a winner, they love a whiner….

    The stupidest of the stupid old white empowered women loved it and will pick our next president.

    I’ve been thinking that if Hillary’s time with Bill in the White House counts as experience that perhaps Gennifer Flowers or, certainly, Monica are infinitely more qualified: they spent more time in closer proximity to the Clinton source of Power.

  4. From WMAL 630 Maryland via Drudge:

    Marianne Pernold tells 630 WMAL’s Chris Core she truly believes that Senator Hillary Clinton’s emotional response to her question at a meeting in New Hampshire was genuine. Pernold asked Clinton how she managed to keep going during the rough campaign, and Clinton’s somewhat-teary response has been credited by some pundits for her victory in the Granite state Tuesday night. Pernold tells 630 WMAL she still voted for Barack Obama, becuase she had attended one of his rallies earlier in the week, and she claims Obama’s stirring speech brought HER to tears!

    HAHAHAHA! F*ing moron….

  5. Oprah Winfrey is exactly what’s wrong with the country.

    I would disagree with one thing: Hillary damn well did NOT get all choked up – but she gave a reasonable (not precisely good, but not entirely lame) performance thereof (you couldn’t find an actual tear with a microscope: she’s not that good an actress) in order to demonstrate that she’s something other than cousin to a cobra. That was an entirely staged moment – and I still don’t know what the hell “I have so much promise from this country” means.

    The problem with this is, it worked. So now be prepared for endless bouts of Hillary “emoting,” of going “behind the candidate” and getting amazingly spontaneous and unscripted (yeah, sure…) glimpses of “the real Hillary,” etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    Of course there’s an upside to even that: being tone-deaf and not really very bright she’ll overdo it, and everybody’ll get disgusted by it pretty quick.

  6. Elections for the Me Generation

    Hmm, it seems to me that the media no longer informs people about issues. More often than not they tell people what they want you to hear based on polls that tell them about you. Drat.

  7. JJ – I’m with you and Gray. Every once in a while I check to be sure I’m not a man but I’m embarrassed to be a woman after her staged poor-misunderstood-me performance . . . and it was a performance. And the truest moment of all the political ads was Hillary’s ‘Christmas’ promo: Lady bountiful passing out goodies to her flock.

  8. What next, he asked? A magazine entitled Me which, when happened, contains nothing but a shiny foil in which you can admire your reflection?

    You think phonetically. I had to wait for you to make a mistake to nail that one down.

    Well, in my book this makes you decent because I’m the same way…see, if you were different, you’d suck green ones.

    It’s all about me, me, me, me, me. Now, what was it you were talking about again?

  9. This kind of narcissism is heavily encouraged in the schools–also, too many businesses have been encouraging it with ads like “you deserve (something)”

  10. That’s funny, Morgan — all my typos are indeed of the phonetic variation.

  11. I have to wonder if they teach civics in school anymore. Do they teach, for example, that in a republic, you pick the best, the brightest, the better educated, the most deliberate person you can find to represent you in Government: the kind of guy you would always go do to ask “what do you think, Hank?” when you had a decision to make.

    You went to Hank because Hank is a lot better at that kind of thing than you are. There are other things you are good at, but maybe deliberations, writing clearly and coming to a consensus isn’t among them.

    You raise your family, you make a living; you may make music or art. You may win a prize with your calf, pie or tomatoes at the county fair. But you prefer all that Governing be left to the thinkers.

    That was the way it was supposed to work. Now Government is often the family business and aptitude for the job of governing has little to do with getting elected.

  12. You really want a chill and a thrill? Go over to Obama’s web site and check out his foreign policy plans. Talk about feelings.

    It’s right up there with what you hear at a pageant.

    If people are looking at Obama and seeing themselves in him, well, we are in deep yogurt because the world is a dangerous place and they are oblivious to it.

  13. I have absolutely no desire to look into a politician’s eyes. An absurd idea. Odd but perhaps telling coincidence that the writers strike is simultaneous with the primaries so that this national political psychodrama becomes a substitute for a limited HBO series (note the first Clinton ad that aped the Sopranos for reasons that remain unclear to me; and there has been a TV movie about John McCain already). I also have little desire to listen to what they say at these stage-managed press conferences we call debates. I don’t put much confidence in the media hacks, and the U-Tube debates reduced populism to a form of farce. We might as well have the candidates appear on American Idol and be judged by Simon and Paula. I’m sure McCain would come off well, Simon would dismiss Romney as too slick, Clinton could show her sensitive side while the theme from Evita plays softly in the back ground, and Obama could shoot some hoop, a few layups to please the crowd. He’d nail the nomination. My main concern with candidates is executive or administrative experience; did they actually run anything, enforce anything, implement any policy, or simply posture and bloviate as senators are wont to do. But I wouldn’t look for a politician like me. I’m not qualified for public office! And for chrissakes don’t look into their eyes unless you are an ophthalmologist.

  14. Allen, I’ll take your word for it and skip Obama’s website. I would expect a collection of standard liberal pieties, written up rather well, but basically old wine in new bottles.

    I feel sorry for his supporters after NH because I’m sure they were expecting to have multiple Obasms and it must be a terrible disappointment, momentumus interruptus.

  15. Zhombre, you are too funny. I love the way you use language.

  16. Zhombre,

    First a huge laugh on that one (Obasams.)

    Actually it’s worse, it’s not pieties it’s magical thinking. Just on one item, all potential (loose) materials for nuclear weapons will be rounded up in 4 years.

  17. A writers strike coinciding with a long drawn out election. God help us.

    On second thought, maybe it’s a good thing. With all the Narcissists (?) gazing at the politicians, maybe a few will waken from their stupor.

  18. […] Bookworm, we learn about Jonah Goldberg’s thoughts on the issue. Maybe he reads The Blog That Nobody […]

  19. […] Bookworm, we learn about Jonah Goldberg’s thoughts on the issue. Maybe he reads The Blog That Nobody […]

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