Archive for September, 2008

A Note on Evil

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

My comment in the previous post on how voting for McCain is evil drew a lot of negative respnse, both in the comments here and in those on Jodi’s blog. This led to Jodi’s own explicit comments on evil in politics, to which, I think, I need to add my own. Like Jodi, though perhaps for different reasons, I am not in general prone to use moral categories to address political issues. I think that the leap from the political to the moral register often leads to the effacement of contextual complexities, through the simplistic imposition of absolute, transcendent modes of judgment. In Deleuze’s terms, the appeal to moral categories is a way of evading the difficult work of developing immanent perspectives and immanent criteria, by simply imposing judgment from outside. It’s a policing action, short-circuiting both political economy and aesthetics.

Nonetheless, there are times when such a judgment seems necessary. At the risk of being excessively pedantic, I want to point out that my use of the term “evil” in the previous posting was quite precise in its reference to Kant — rather than just generally using it as a means of rhetorical posturing. In particular, I was referring to Kant’s essay “An Old Question Raised Again: Is the Human Race Constantly Progressing?”, which forms one part of the late (post-Critical) book The Conflict of the Faculties. I think that this essay deserves a contemporary rethinking and “updating” — in much the same spirit in which Foucault rethought and “updated” Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?”.Foucault rejects the way that, in the hands of Habermas and others, Kant’s Enlightenment principles have become the basis for what Foucault “like[s] to call the ‘blackmail’ of the Enlightenment.” Foucault says that it is ridiculous to demand “that one has to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Enlightenment.” For “the Enlightenment is an event, or a set of events and complex historical processes,” rather than a permanent set of values to be identified with “rationality” or “humanism” tout court. Indeed, for Foucault it is precisely in refusing this for-or-against “blackmail” that one can most truly remain faithful to the Kantian task of a continued “historico-critical investigation” of our own assumptions and presuppositions, including precisely and especially the ones that seem to us to be most self-evidently “rational” and “humanistic.”

With regard to “An Old Question Raised Again,” similarly, we might do well to rethink Kant’s interrogation of the possibility of “progress,” precisely because we now find ourselves in a world where nobody can believe any longer in “progress” in the sense that Kant meant it. Lyotard wrote in the 1980s that nobody could believe in “grand narratives” (like the Enlightenment and Marxist one of progressive human emancipation) any longer; Francis Fukuyama wrote in the 1990s that the perpetuity of neoliberal capitalism was the only “end of history” that we could ever hope to attain. Today, in 2008, we are if anything even more cynical, as years of booms and busts in the market — with the biggest bust of all currently looming over us — have all the more firmly established capital accumulation, with its concomitant technological improvements, as the only form of “progress” that we can at all believe in.

But it is precisely in this context that Kant’s essay speaks to us with a new relevance. “An Old Question Raised Again” makes the point that there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to maintain the proposition that the human race is progressing — by which Kant means morally progressing, to a state of emancipation instead of slavery, mutual respect (treating all human beings as means, rather than just as ends) instead of subordination and hierarchy, and cosmopolitan peace instead of strife and war. (In other words, Kant is implicitly referring to the three watchwords of the French Revolution — Liberty, Equality, Fraternity — though we might well want to replace the last one with “cosmopolitanism,” to avoid the gendered connotations of “fraternity”). There is no empirical way to assert that humanity is progressing in these terms, rather than regressing or merely remaining at the same point. (It is worth maintaining this Kantian point against all those fatuous attempts to claim that the USA is benevolently improving the lot of the rest of the world, or somehow standing up for “freedom” and “democracy,” when in fact it is exporting the imperious demands of neoliberal capital, whether by outright war or by other forms of influence or coercion, to other parts of the world).

However — and this is the real crux of Kant’s argument — although there is no empirical evidence in favor of the proposition that “progress” has taken place, there is a reason, or an empirical ground, for us to believe in progress, to hope for it, and even to work for it — rejecting the cynicism that tells us that any such hope or belief is deluded or “utopian” (this latter word is most often used pejoratively, in the form of the claim that any attempt to make human life better, such as all the efforts of the Left in the 19th and 20th centuries, inevitably has “unintended consequences” that end up making things worse). This ground is the occurrence of certain events — for Kant, the French Revolution — whose sheer occurrence, in itself, however badly these events miscarried subsequently, “demonstrates a character of the human race at large and all at once… a moral character of humanity, at least in its predisposition, a character which not only permits people to hope for progress toward the better, but is already itself progress in so far as its capacity is sufficient for the present.” Humanity hasn’t actually gotten any better, but its active ability to imagine and project betterment, on a social and cosmopolitan scale, is itself evidence that a “predisposition” to betterment does in fact exist.

Now, I left out a couple of phrases in the citation above; the entire sentence actually reads: “Owing to its universality, this mode of thinking demonstrates a character of the human race at large and all at once; owing to its disinteredness, a moral character of humanity, at least in its predisposition, a character which not only permits people to hope for progress toward the better, but is already itself progress in so far as its capacity is sufficient for the present.” The two key terms here are universality and disinterestedness. Kant is not merely praising enthusiasm and fervor. He is almost oppressively aware that enthusiasm and fervor guarantee nothing, and that they have propelled many of the worst happenings and the worst movements in human history — something that is all the more evident today, after the horrors of the twentieth century. Nothing that is narrowly drawn, chauvanistic, nationalistic, etc., can stand as evidence for a predisposition towards betterment.

But beyond that: Kant is not saying that the French Revolution in itself is the evidence of a human predisposition to betterment. He is saying, rather, that the “universal yet disinterested sympathy” that “spectators” from afar felt for the French Revolution is such evidence. Our “moral predisposition” for betterment is revealed in the way that “all spectators (who are not engaged in this game themselves” feel a “sympathy,” or “a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm,” for the distant revolutionary events of which they are the witnesses. Such sympathy-from-afar can be “dangerous,” Kant warns us; but it is genuine evidence for the potentiality or “predisposition” toward improvement of the human condition — at least to the extent that it is “universal” (rather than being partial, chauvinistic, or favoring one “nation” or “race” against another — as fascist enthusiasm always is), and that it is “disinterested” (not motivated by any expectation of personal gain; an aesthetic concern rather than a merely self-aggrandizing one). (I think that, for example, Foucault’s enthusiasm from afar for the Iranian revolution can be regarded in the same way as Kant’s enthusiasm from afar for the French revolution; in both cases, the bad outcomes of these revolutions does not disqualify the reasons for which Kant and Foucault found themseves in sympathy with them; and this is why such events, and such expressions of sympathy, must be radically distinguished from the enthusiasm for fascism that consumed so many early-20th-century artists and intellectuals).

I suppose that, genealogically, all this is Kant’s secular-Enlightenment updating of the old Christian virtue of hope. But it locates what is hoped for in this life, this world, rather than in an afterlife, or in some sort of post-apocalyptic recovery (in this way, it is actually more secular, and less mystical and religious, than, say, Walter Benjamin’s messianism; and although it refers, or defers, to an as-yet-unaccomplished future, it is more materially and empirically grounded than, say, Derrida’s “democracy to come.” Benjamin and Derrida must both be honored as true descendants of Kant, yet arguably they have both diminished him). The human predisposition towards betterment already exists in the here and now, even if its fulfillment does not. Quoting Kant again:

For such a phenomenon in human history is not to be forgotten, because it has revealed a tendency and faculty in human nature for improvement such that no politician, affecting wisdom, might have conjured out of the course of things hitherto existing, and one which nature and freedom alone, united in the human race in conformity with inner principles of right, could have promised. But so far as time is concerned, it can promise this only indefinitely and as a contingent event.

Human improvement depends upon happening that have not yet taken place, and that in fact may never take place — it requires a “contingent event” in order to be realized. But nonetheless, the “phenomenon” of a capacity towards such improvement is in itself perfectly and altogethe real. In Deleuze’s terms, a “predisposition” is something virtual. Our predisposition towards improvement exists virtually, even if it has not been actualized in our social, political, and economic systems. It is for this reason that the denial of our potential or predisposition towards improvement is a secular version of what the Christians call a “sin against the Holy Spirit” — in Kant’s terms, such a denial is “radical evil”, in that it negates the very potentiality that makes any sort of moral choice thinkable in the first place. (Hence, Kant insists that human beings have a predisposition towards betterment in precisely the same way, and for the same reasons, that we all also have a “propensity to evil” or depravity).

In the grander scheme of things, this means that we must reject, on Kantian grounds, all ideologies that declare that humanity is incapable of betterment because human beings are inherently limited and imperfect (such is the tenor of the anti-“utopian” rejections of anything that goes beyond the limits of contemporary predatory capitalism), and all ideologies that declare that the narrow self-interested maximizing behavior of Homo oeconomicus cannot ever be transcended, as well as all ideologies that limit the prospects of emancipation to any particular group, nation, religion, etc. And in the narrow, tawdry limits of contemporary US politics — to move from great things to small — this is why the boundless cynicism of the Republican Party must be rejected as evil. The Democrats may well be playing games with our hopes for betterment, hypocritically encouraging those hopes only the better to betray them, etc., etc.; but at least they represent a world in which such hopes stil exist.

More electoral ruminations

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Apparently, Zizek (sort of) supports Obama. This marks a change from four years ago, when Zizek welcomed Bush’s victory. Now, I am not usually concerned to follow all the microscopic twists and turns of Zizek’s party line; especially in matters like this, since I think that he is way too Eurocentric to understand what’s going on in America. But for once I think he might be on to something.

As Jodi summarizes Zizek’s argument (since she expresses it far more clearly than Zizek himself does):

Zizek’s position on Obama is rooted in the realization that appearances matter. It matters whether our society is one in which the officially acknowledged ideology claims that torture is sometimes useful, that some couples destroy the fabric of society, that its perfectly fine if the top 1% of the population are vastly wealthier than all the rest. With Obama, then, the domain of the officially acknowledged and acceptable changes. And this change brings with it a whole set of different potentials, different possibilities. The truth of the claim, then, rests not simply in whether Obama, Biden, and their handlers believe it. It’s more than that, the minimal or virtual difference that shifts the entire political frame, that creates opportunities that otherwise would have been foreclosed.

In other words, no matter how hypocritical the Democrats are (and they are, if you think — for instance — about how Biden pours forth all this rhetoric about helping the less well-to-do citizens of this country, while at the same time he has spent his entire political career working hand-in-glove with the credit card industry to screw over working- and middle-class Americans just so Visa and MasterCard can increase their already obscene profit margins even further) — nonetheless, the fact that they pay lip service to human rights, human dignity, and freedom from unnecessary suffering makes them morally superior to the Republicans, who are so crassly cynical that they overtly and positively revel in the prospects of torture, bigotry, destroying the environment for quick corporate profits, and enriching the already-rich at the expense of everyone else.

Thus, the Democrats’ hypocrisy is to be preferred to the Republicans’ cynicism, for good Kantian reasons (though Zizek would probably give Hegelian ones instead). As Kant famously said about the French Revolution, no matter how much this uprising might have “miscarried” or been “filled with misery and atrocities,” nonetheless any decent human being, observing the events of the Revolution from afar, would have to be caught up in “a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm”; the sheer fact of this “sympathy,” despite everything that goes wrong in actuality, itself testifies to “a moral predisposition in the human race.” In other words, the sheer fact that something like the French Revolution could occur, no matter how badly it went wrong subsequently, gives us a legitimate ground for hoping that human beings are not forever subject to the Hobbesian alternative of either continual war of all against all, or severe and violent repression.

In the present circumstances, this means that Obama’s rhetoric of hope, no matter how vapid and empty it may actually be, still matters. Anyone who thinks that Obama will actually change things is in for severe disappointment if he wins. It’s pretty clear that Obama will do no more than restore Clintonian neoliberalism, in place of the revanchist militarism and rampant looting and pillaging that characterizes the current Bush-Cheney regime (and that McCain, for all his promises of “change”, will do nothing to alter). In other words, Obama may well rescue us somewhat from the nightmare of the last eight years, but only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante, with its foreign bombings and domestic “rationalizations” of the economy, that we rightly objected to in the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact that Obama, Biden, and company pay lip service to humane values that they will not actually uphold is in itself a cause for hope, for maintaining a “hope we can believe in,” or (to quote a past Presidential candidate whom it is now taboo to mention) for “keep[ing] hope alive.”

This is why I think it is important to vote for Obama in spite of everything. There is an essential moral difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin; just as (in a comparison that Zizek, to his credit, does not shy from), there was an essential moral difference between Stalin and Hitler. Zizek condemns the currently fashionable habit of lumping Stalin and Hitler together as totalitarian dictators. The difference, as in the Presidential race today, has to do with hypocrisy. Stalin professed support for human rights like free speech, for self-determination, for peace, and for harmony and equality among individuals and peoples regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.; all these principles are enshrined in the Soviet Constitution of the 1930s. Of course, in fact Stalin was a megalomaniacal tyrant who ruled arbitrarily, violated all of these ideals, and put millions of people to death; but Zizek is entirely right to suggest that such hypocrisy is morally superior, and far to be preferred, to Hitler’s overtly racist and anti-democratic ideology — which he unhypocritically put into practice. It’s for this reason that American Communists of the 1930s-1950s (observers of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath from afar, just as Kant was an observer of the French Revolution from afar) are far more honorable and decent (for all their ludicrous idolization of Stalin and sleazy maneuvers against other factions on the left) than the anti-Communists of the same period.

In recent years, and especially in the weeks following McCain’s selection of Palin, conservatives have excoriated liberals for, basically, thinking that conservatives are stupid, and that stupidity is the only explanation for why anybody would, say, be enthusiastic about Palin. And I think that the conservatives who argue in this manner are somewhat correct — at least to the extent that, as I’ve said before, many liberals’ scorn for Palin has prevented them from seeing the great appeal she has, affectively, to large segments of the electorate. We shouldn’t argue the election on the grounds that Palin is “unqualified” or that she is “trashy.” Rather, we should make it clear that even the most minimal sense of human dignity requires us to throw the Republicans out of power. It is not stupid to vote for McCain/Palin; rather, it is evil. Republicans are intrinsically, and necessarily, morally depraved. Anyone who votes for McCain/Palin, or supports them, by that very fact demonstrates that he or she is a person utterly devoid of basic morality, and lacking in any respect for others. To vote for McCain is to shit on human civilization, and show utter contempt for human values and human hopes. And not in spite of the Democrats’ hypocrisy, but rather precisely because of this — because their hypocrisy is, as it were, the compliment that vice pays to virtue — the moral thing to do in this election is to vote for Obama.

[ADDENDUM: I should clarify that the above is written in the knowledge that it is an entirely futile utterance. Even though there are nearly 6 weeks left until the actual election, it is pretty clear at this point that the race is already over. McCain is the indubitable winner, with the only question being whether his margin of victory will be as slender as Bush’s margin over Kerry, or as vast as Bush Sr.’s margin over Dukakis (of course, it will probably end up being somewhere in between). So you might say that this posting enacts a sort of proleptic mourning. The irony, though, is that I am mourning, not the failure of some grand hope, but rather merely the continued frustration of a hope that, even in “victory,” would not have been fulfilled. I am mourning, in advance, the failure of a failure. Such is the depressive postmodernist condition: in comparison, even something like Walter Benjamin’s melancholia seems like the most lurid optimism, a grand modernist gesture that we cannot believe in any longer. But it is precisely in such a situation that Kant’s injunction, that we must believe in, and have hope for, the prospect of an improvement of the human condition even in the face of all empirical evidence for the contrary. Our deepest moral obligation is to be faithful to this hope, even though its fulfillment cannot be foreseen, and even though it is something that can be promised “only indefinitely and as a contingent event.” ]

[2ND ADDENDUM: I fear that I am beginning to sound like late Derrida, with all his words about infinite deferral, democracy to come, etc. I can only repeat what I have said before; that essentially Derrida’s thought is a minor, but honorable, footnote to Kant.]

An Issue That Won’t Go Away

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Things are getting out of hand. There’s even a call for papers on Sarah Palin, together with a definitive Lacanian analysis by the current Pope (Jacques-Alain Miller, Lacan’s son-in-law) and a typically cretinous and self-congratulatory effusion by Camille Paglia, who has never met a butch woman, or for that matter a misogynistic woman, whom she didn’t swoon over.

I’ve already written more than enough about Palin; I don’t have the desire (or maybe I just don’t have the stomach) to engage in further analysis here. I just want to note that the problem I have with all these accounts (and even with infinite thought’s far more thoughtful response) is that they all take the question of gender, or of the construction of femininity, or of sexual difference, as being far more central to the situation than I think it actually is.

Of course it is true that McCain chose Palin largely on account of her gender; and that her affective effect upon “the American people” (an entity that I do not believe actually exists, but that I am using, in scare quotes, for convenience here), is rooted in her gendered (and explicitly marked as gendered) performativity.

But to redefine the election in terms of some analysis of how Palin reconfigures the essential figure of Woman seems to me entirely to be missing the specificity of what is happening in this election. There is little to choose here between Miller, who says that Palin “knows that the phallus is only a semblance and, furthermore, one not to be taken seriously: it is the de-complexified femininity”, and Paglia, for whom Palin represents the “robust and hearty” femininity, and a “can-do, no-excuses, moose-hunting feminism”, that supposedly existed in American frontier society before it was spoiled by the “whining, sniping, wearily ironic mode of the establishment feminism” of the last thirty years.

Such analyses transform the socially and historically conditioned gender relations that are at work in American society today into transcendent and trans-historical structures. They blithely ignore the ways that Palin’s media persona (the “hockey mom” entirely dedicated to Family who is also the ferocious “pitbull” or “barracuda”) could never have been imagined in another time and place, because it is so closely tied to the economic situation of American middle-class families today (in which the necessity for both parents to work subsists uneasily alongside the still unequal distribution of household and child-raising chores), to the ways that the feminist movement of the 1960s and after, together with the “sexual revolution” of the same era, the explosion in technologies of contraception, etc., have radically restructured gender conceptions and roles even among the most “conservative” and familialist sectors of the population, to the revival of fundamentalist Christianity in the last forty years on an entirely new basis (which is inseparable from the latest technologies of business and marketing, so that it has has very little in common with any sort of “old-time religion”), to the reconfiguration of shopping and consumption in our post-Fordist era (e.g. the new kinds of malls and the ubiquity of chains like Walmart, Target, etc., without which “hockey moms” could not possibly exist), to the ways that race has been reconfigured in post-civil-rights American (something that is, of course, essential to Obama’s image as well), and so on almost ad infinitum.

Any consideration of gender roles and positions aside from all these factors (and many more) simply misses the mark. Palin has not substituted plenitude for lack, or “physical fortitude and indomitable spirit” (Paglia) for wimpy, shrill, “politically correct” feminism. Rather, she is a phenomenon of the contemporary mediascape in which such binary oppositions are meaningless and pointless. Both the excitement she has generated (as a super-Mom who can do it all) and the disdain she has attracted (with bourgie liberals openly, and old-style country club conservatives more circumspectly, looking down on her as “white trash”), need to be understood, rather, in terms of communicative capitalism and its relentless premediations.

If Palin embodies any sort of plenitude, it is that of the commodity economy, rather than that of an economy of gender. Palin was (quite brilliantly) chosen by McCain because — like any successful commodity product in the postmodern marketplace — she embodies what Alex Shakar, in his novel The Savage Girl, calls a paradessence: a “paradoxical essence,” a conjunction of contradictory qualities. “Every product has this paradoxical essence. Two opposing desires that it can promise to satisfy simultaneously.” The paradessence is the “schismatic core, [the] broken soul, at the center of every product.” Thus coffee promises both “stimulation and relaxation”; ice cream connotes both “eroticism and innocence,” or (in more psychoanalytic terms) both “semen and mother’s milk.” The paradessence is not a dialectical contradiction; its opposing terms do not interact, conflict, or produce some higher synthesis. Rather, the paradessence affirms everything indiscriminately; it is a matter of “having everything both ways and every way and getting everything [one] wants” (from pp 60-61 and 179).

Palin is a paradessence, and hence a wildly popular commodity, because she combines the family-centeredness of the ideal suburban Mom with the ruthlessness of a corporate “warrior” in the dog-eat-dog neoliberal economy, or of a hard-core ideologue/foot soldier for the Far Right. She is sort of a perfect combination of June Cleaver and Ilse Koch. She both energizes the GOP’s fundamentalist-Christian base (which was previously very suspicious of McCain), and appeals to non-fundamentalist, independent white voters (who find her even more charismatic than Obama — with the added advantage that she’s white, to boot). It is probable that, given how gender formations work in America today, so powerful a paradessence would have to appear in the form of a woman, rather than a (heterosexual) man. But the most valid categories for comprehending Palin remain those of media theory and political economy, rather than those of the metaphysics of gender difference.

Palin

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Obviously Sarah Palin is a right-wing maniac. She opposes sex education and favors abstinence instruction only; she opposes abortion, even in cases of rape; she supports everything the oil companies want, and thinks that global warming may not even exist, and if it does, it is not the result of human actions; etc. etc. ad nauseam. All that is good enough reason not to want her anywhere near the White House.

But I’m stunned by the vituperation that seems to be overcoming the “liberal” portion of the blogosphere, denouncing her on the basis of her lack of experience, her teenage daughter’s pregnancy, etc.

For one thing, “experience” simply does not matter. At all. It is a completely bogus idea. The lack of experience didn’t stop Ronald Reagan from being the most effective political leader of the last half century (and therefore the one who did the most harm, and caused the most human suffering, of any President in American history). Neither does Der Arnold seem the least bit hindered in his machinations by having less “experience,” and less knowledge of anything outside Hollywood, than the average joker driving down the street. The fact is, “experience” can be easily borrowed or bought. Reagan didn’t need experience or understanding, because he had the right-wing policy wonks from the Heritage Foundation backing him. And Arnold has handlers inherited from his GOP predecessor Pete Wilson. A politician doesn’t need actual “experience,” as long as he or she has the right advisors. With the right advisors, a chimpanzee could be an effective US President (and the chimp would probably pull in higher approval ratings than Bush now does).

As for “personal” or “family” issues, who cares? The story about Palin allegedly being Trig’s grandmother rather than mother has all the usual flavor of paranoid conspiracy-mongering. It has exactly the same affective logic, and makes about as much sense, as 9/11 conspiracy theories, or David Icke’s allegations about our reptilian overlords, or JFK assassination conspiracy theories. I’d go so far as to say that, even in the unlikely event that the “grandmother” theory should prove to be true, I would still say that its underlying logic disqualifies it from being given any importance whatsoever.

With regard to the news of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter actually being pregnant now, all I can say — rather crassly — is that the chickens have come home to roost. This is what happens when you indoctrinate your post-puberty children with the doctrine of “abstinence”, and deny them any knowledge of contraception. (See the movie Teeth for the best account of this dynamic). Of course fundamentalist “family values” are a nightmare. But the moralizing criticism of Palin on these grounds, that I have seen in so much “liberal” commentary of the past day, itself buys into these same odious “family values”. Enough said.

There are two things that especially trouble me about the “liberal” blogosphere’s attacks on Palin. One is good old-fashoned misogyny. I just don’t believe that a white male candidate would ever be subject to the sort of treatment that Palin has gotten: the smirks, the knowing winks, the ridicule of her prowess as a hunter, the doubts as to whether she can be an effective public servant at the same time that she is a parent to children under 18 (and especially one with Down’s Syndrome), and so on. I am in no way opposed to the basic need for partisanship, for taking off the gloves and attacking the other party. But I wish I could see a bit more thought going into the premises of all these “liberal” attacks on Palin, the sorts of values that they are appealing to. We are not going to win if we base our attacks against the Republicans on the Republicans’ own odious prejudices and presuppositions.

The other thing that disturbs me is the air of self-congratulatory triumphalism that surrounds all these attacks on Palin. Nearly everything I have read from the “liberal” blogs and media takes the gleeful line that McCain has just blown the election, that his choice of Palin is an egregious blunder, that at best it bespeaks panic and desperation. I’m sorry, but this sort of evaluation is sheer idiocy. Of course the selection of Palin is a gamble — the selection of someone relatively unknown, and therefore untested in the heat of policy discussions and electoral battles always is. But that doesn’t mean that Palin is automatically a public-relations disaster. Just watching five minutes of YouTube clips is enough to show that Palin is one of the most charismatic and telegenic politicians in the US today. She radiates a combination of spunky energy, cool authority, and down-home reassurance. There is no question that she will be powerfully appealing to mainstream voters. She is yet another example of the right wing’s brilliance, over the last thirty years, in manipulating affect — in getting voters to feel good about candidates, and therefore to vote for them even against their own actual conscious interests.

In short, anyone who sees the selection of Palin as a self-inflicted wound for the McCain campaign simply doesn’t get it — doesn’t have a clue about how politics works in America today. If Obama has a chance of winning the election despite ingrained American racism, this has nothing to do with the state of the economy, or the war. It is because Obama arouses confidence and enthusiasm — in a manner that Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Mondale, etc. were totally incapable of. (Whether this enthusiasm and excitement are able to travel, whether they can break through the glass ceiling and affect other people besides Obama’s core constituency, is still open to question. The campaign will very much turn on it — it is by no means a done deal). It troubles me how so many Obama supporters and enthusiasts are so smug in their certainty of victory, and I should say also in their sense of moral superiority and self-righteousness, that they cannot see what is right in front of their faces. In this case, the fact that Palin is a media figure of potentially huge appeal. You can’t fight or counteract something of which you are totally oblivious. There may be skeletons in anybody’s closet that ruin their chances in public life when they emerge; but at this point, Sarah Palin is more a Sarah Connor than she is a Harriet Miers or Tom Eagleton. We need to be worried about her effectiveness — and about McCain’s sharpness in picking her, in contrast to Obama’s going for Biden as a safe, conservative choice that signals politics-as-usual — instead of prematurely celebrating the demise of the Republican ticket.

[ADDENDUM: I should also mention class prejudice: bourgie white “liberals” looking down their noses, with their usual parochialism and bigotry, at a woman and family they consider to be “rednecks” or “white trash” — as was pointed out in Gawker, of all places.]