Belmont Club

Gazing on the Gorgon

Hi gorgeousJohnathan Freedland of the Guardian claims that the “world” will come to understand the fundamental sickness of America if it doesn’t elect the man the planet “yearns for” in November. He writes these words on behalf of the world:

If Americans choose McCain, they will be turning their back on the rest of the world, choosing to show us four more years of the Bush-Cheney finger. And I predict a deeply unpleasant shift. Until now, anti-Americanism has been exaggerated and much misunderstood: outside a leftist hardcore, it has mostly been anti-Bushism, opposition to this specific administration. But if McCain wins in November, that might well change. Suddenly Europeans and others will conclude that their dispute is with not only one ruling clique, but Americans themselves. For it will have been the American people, not the politicians, who will have passed up a once-in-a-generation chance for a fresh start – a fresh start the world is yearning for.

One of the conceits of the Left is that it is in the automatic majority, if not always in actual numbers then by virtue of inevitable numbers.  Whenever the arithmetical majority doesn’t share its views the assumption is that they soon will. By definition the “vanguard” is always where the majority goes because they will lead it by the nose. Although one would think that the collapse of the Soviet Union might shake this certitude, it has not. John Podhoretz at Commentary thinks this kind of thinking is arises from living in an echo-chamber, a circumstance which sometimes gives rise to an alternate perception of reality. Podhoretez thinks that “the reason Barack Obama seems so rattled by the McCain surge is that he’s never actually faced a competent and agile competitor to his Right, and has never really been called upon to broaden his appeal to voters who live in a different ideological frame.”  The term “flyover country” conveys the idea that the ideological other isn’t just someone you don’t agree with, he’s a person from another universe.

Perhaps the problem has to do as well with his campaign consultant, David Axelrod. … Axelrod comes out of leftist Democratic politics … and he has specialized in helping his candidates  prevail in primary races when winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the entire election. … the general-election contest was a slow-motion coronation. … So this is new for Axelrod, as it is for Obama. They are not running in a mostly liberal, mostly Democratic state. They are running in a 50-50 country, in which far more people describe themselves as “conservative” than say they are “liberal.” For them, it is probably difficult to imagine that Sarah Palin has appeal, but she does.

Johnathan Freeland’s amazement at how anyone could take McCain and Palin seriously recalls the famous remark of Pauline Kael, who upon learning that Richard Nixon beat George McGovern by a landslide in 1972 said, “how could that be? I don’t know a single person who voted for Nixon.” Kael probably traveled in a self-selected and heremetic social circle whose gatekeepers applied unstated but effective political filters.  “All those who don’t belong, keep out.” But it is not just the Left which is cloistered.  A glance at my social networking list would show precious few voters for Obama. If Obama were to win by a landslide I wouldn’t know anyone who liked him either. But while in the past the privilege of belonging to a circle was the province of the elite, today anyone can join his own ghetto. The Internet has made it easy for anyone to restrict his gaze to only what he wants to see. And from there it is but a single step to living in a self-referential world which could be shattered by exposure to contrary information.

Beholding information that will shatter your world view is not unlike looking on a Gorgon. But as the myths remind us, it is sometimes necessary. The Gorgon was a source of both death and renewal. “In Greek mythology, blood taken from the right side of a Gorgon could bring the dead back to life, yet blood taken from the left side was an instantly fatal poison.” When George W. Bush began to have misgivings about the strategy his commanders were pursuing in Iraq, he forced himself to look upon Medusa, as it were, and re-think his position.  The result was the Surge. One of the weaknesses of Barack Obama, which John Podhoretz failed to note, is that it took him an unconscionably long time to admit the effectiveness of the Surge. He could not look upon Medusa and was the worse for it.

Faced with a choice between believing the judgment of a large number of voters who must live with their political choices and his own sophisticated, progressive and correct world view, it is easier for Freeland to imagine that Americans are collectively mad. It is the disappointment that ‘they’ are not going to be like him that cuts so deeply. When Freeland says that “suddenly Europeans and others will conclude” that America is hopeless, he doesn’t really mean that the USA will suddenly stop becoming successful, powerful, influential or rich. What he probably means is that America has lost the inestimable chance of becoming like Europe. Freeland ruefully writes:

Of course I know that even to mention Obama’s support around the world is to hurt him. Incredibly, that large Berlin crowd damaged Obama at home, branding him the “candidate of Europe” and making him seem less of a patriotic American. But what does that say about today’s America, that the world’s esteem is now unwanted? If Americans reject Obama, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the rest of us – and, make no mistake, we shall hear it.

There’s that “we” again.

Tip Jar.