Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The long wait

Americans will tell you that the British cling to traditions which have lost all value except as remnants of a vanished past -- the monarchy, the established Church that almost nobody attends, the public schools and the class-based holidays like Boxing Day -- but in reality, it is the United States that is burdened by its history. Our whole political system is based on the Electoral College, which renders the votes of millions null and void and encourages candidates to treat neighboring states as if they were Balkan principalities to be conquered. Indeed, our union of quasi-autonomous states must look absurd to Europeans. The same system of laws, prisons and schools obtains from Marseilles to Lyon and from Newcastle to Land's End, but even a serious crime is treated very differently by Vermont than it is by Utah. And rarely is the business of America more ridiculous than right now, during the Transition. Teams of people are being assembled, offices furnished, vast sums of money expended, just so Brian Williams can tear up with pride about the orderly and peaceful succession from one administration to another.

This is how the hidebound Brits do it: the morning after the general election (with six weeks of campaigning at public expense), the loser packs a couple of bags and moves out of 10, Downing Street. The winner, after a ceremonial chat with the Queen, moves in that afternoon and names a cabinet. Transition complete. All the dress-up, the marching bands and choirs and clergymen, they save for coronations, of which there were exactly four in the twentieth century. Of course, we have to have a coronation every four years. Right now ballrooms are being booked, bands hired, flowers and champagne ordered, all paid for by generous rich people who want something from the new bunch; women are ordering gowns and accessories, scrambling for hair appointments and hotel rooms, while men thank their deities they don't have to climb into morning coats and top hats any more, and everybody speculates about the weather.*

The inauguration used to take place on March 4, as prescribed by the Constitution. (It also designated that elections be held in early November, when the harvest would have been completed.) This gave plenty of time for the vote to be reported to the state capital, which would then dispatch electors to meet in December and officially choose a president (and senators). Then a guy on a horse would ride to Mt. Vernon and give His Excellency the news, and General Washington would prepare for the coach ride to New York City in late winter, before spring planting. Worked well in the eighteenth century, but this is the twenty-first. Anybody see room for improvement? FDR did. In 1932, with millions out of work and banks failing daily, he had to wait four months to deal with the crisis. In 1936, Congress moved his re-inauguration up to January 20, still a two-month lag. There has been no action on this strange custom since then. Which is especially unfortunate when the new president has to deal with half a dozen crises as pressing as the Great Depression, and the old one continues to act as if the people had not just cried, "In the name of God, go."

So we wait. The news cycle abhors a vacuum, and the bloviators are in bloom. Topics as trivial as Supreme Court appointments and as crucial as Sasha and Malia's puppy fill the air, so recently clogged with attack ads, so soon to be alive with entreaties that we shop ourselves stupid. Nothing to report translates into TALK LOUDER, and where there is no news, everything is news. How else to explain the Palin Press Tour?

Failed vice-presidential candidates are supposed to go away, eventually becoming answers on "Jeopardy" or starring in American Express "Do you know me?" commercials (William Miller, remember?). In the past week, Caribou Barbie has given more exclusive interviews than Lena LaMonte on the occasion of "The Dancing Cavalier" ("A glittering, glowing star in the Hollywood feer-ma-mint"). Not since Madonna was a girl have I seen such raw ambition with so little talent to back it up. If John McCain was soundly clobbered a week ago -- and remember, I said if -- Palin can't understand how America could have failed, or what it has to do with her. She has all but announced her intention to lead the Republicans back to glory in 2012. If Todd has a rival for Sarah's love, it could only be Sarah herself. Her political purblindness is truly astonishing, as for instance when she bragged to CNN about the "toughness" of Alaska women: "They're commercial fishermen [sic], they're pilots, they're working up in the North Slope in the oil fields. You see equality in Alaska. I think that was a bit of a surprise on the national level." Because women in the other forty-nine states are sitting on the sun porch, waiting for the maid to bring tea. This is supposed to pull in that phantom army, the Disaffected Hillary Voters?

She's not a far-right Hillary Clinton, she's a Yukon Evita Peron. Did she "energize the base"? I don't have a finger on the basal pulse. Either some kind of Rapture/NASCAR convergence kept them away from the polls on November 4, or "the base" ain't what it used to be. In which case we can only hope the Republicans hitch their dogsled to Palin and keep it there. Mush, baby, mush!

*Tickets to Inaugural events are already being sold, illegally, for thousands of dollars. Thank you, eBay.

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Blogger Generik said...

Goddamn, I love the way you write.

8:44 PM  

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