I have gone on record as an author, a therapist, a professor, an expert courtroom witness–and an activist to document and oppose the ways in which false psychiatric diagnoses are used to stigmatize, even demonize people. But, I’ve never denied that mental illness exists. On the contrary. It is a formidable enemy and causes great human suffering.
Still, I am uncertain about how to describe certain political “crowd” behaviors that might be characterized as “mad,” cult-like, hysterical. In the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami, quotes Elias Cannetti’s 1960 work about Crowds and Power. Cannetti believes that marching together gives people the “illusion of equality.” But Ajami views American pro-Obama crowds as behaving more and more like crowds on the Arab Street, with huge emotionality and faith in a Great Leader. Ajami states that the “politics of charisma wrecked Arab and Muslim societies.”
There are important reasons to vote for Obama and important reasons to vote for McCain. Neither candidate thrills me, both frighten me but for different reasons. But, what worries me even more than the candidates is the way in which so many Americans seem to have lost both their gravity and their sanity. They are behaving like drunken soccer fans or like ecstatic True Believers undergoing a religious transformation. During Obama’s acceptance speech 100 years ago in Denver, I saw people of all ages, both genders, and of every color, weeping, trembling, transfixed.
Pro-Obama grandmothers are behaving just like “bobby-soxers” once did at a Frank Sinatra or Elvis concert.
McCain-Palin supporters do not seem to be behaving in this way. Perhaps that is because they do not view McCain or Palin as Messiahs. I am not saying that Republican supporters are free of weird and tragic behaviors. Au contraire. A week ago today, I wrote about the young woman (a McCain supporter) who’d claimed she’d been attacked and mutilated by an angry, black, pro-Obama supporter. It was all a hoax, the woman clearly had “problems.”
But this was one individual, it was not an entire crowd; this was a young and powerless individual, not a successful and powerful one.
So, what are we to make of someone like my friend and colleague, the accomplished and hard-working Erica Jong, when she tells the Italian media that she has begun to somatize the election? Insomnia, back spasms and all? I’ve emailed her to find out if she really, honestly said this but as yet, have heard nothing back.
According to Jason Horowitz in the New York Observer, Jong told Corriere della Sera that an “Obama loss will spark the second American Civil War. Blood Will Run in the Streets.” Now where did I read something like that before? Oh yes, on September 5, 2008, nearly two months ago, I wrote about The Coming Civil War in America right here at Pajamas. I guess the piece has its secret admirers.
Jong allegedly told Corriere della Sera that her “fear that Obama might lose the election has become an obsession. A paralyzing terror. An anxious fever that keeps you awake at night.” She also mentions that her friends Naomi Wolf and Jane Fonda are “extremely worried that Obama will be sabotaged by Republican dirty tricks” and that it will lead to a “second American Civil War.”
Il Foglio‘s New York based correspondent, Christian Rocca, has translated parts of the Jong interview into English. What is going on when Jong and her equally creative, accomplished, and wealthy friends (Ken Follett, Susan Cheever, Wolf, Fonda, Michael Chabon) claim that the Republican Party is causing a psycho-somatic “meltdown?”
According to Jong, Fonda says that she “cried all night and can’t cure (her) ailing back for all the stress.” Jong herself is also suffering from “back spasms” and has had to turn to “acupuncture and valium.” Jong is quoted as saying:
“It’s not a coincidence that President Bush recalled soldiers from Iraq for Dick Cheney to lead against American citizens in the streets…Bush has transformed America into a police state, from torture to the imprisonment of reporters, to the Patriot Act.”
Oh, Erica, say it isn’t so, tell me you were quoted out of context, tell me you took too much valium, tell me anything. What can it mean when smart, feminist women start acting like hysterical nineteenth century heroines? When they feel “victimized” even as their candidate appears to be winning?
Torture is what Muslim dictators do to Muslim dissidents, day in and day out. Reporters are routinely imprisoned or shot in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Iran –not in America. Muslim dissidents view their last, best hope as right here in the West, especially in America.
So, while I respect anyone’s right to vote and campaign for Obama it is important to keep gravitas alive.
Oh, and remember to keep the aspidistra flying as well.