The post super week letdown

14 February 2008
The presidential campaign in the US amounts to marketing personalities, while cleverly avoiding the real questions of social justice.
Like tens of millions of Americans, I waited anxiously for our two day super week, beginning on February 3 with the Super Bowl (New York Giants v. New England Patriots) and ending two days later with Super Tuesday’s primaries in 22 states. Clear winners would then shape the super contest in November for the presidency. The rituals began in sports bars across the country. I put the chip into the dip, raised my beer glass, without taking my eyes off the screen, and understood I lived in a Super Nation. “Super,” said the young woman next to me, responding to a completed pass. In the stadium in Arizona the audience paid up to $19 thousand per ticket on E-Bay. They couldn’t see one hundredth as well as bar patrons watching close-ups of athletes in pain on giant plasma screens. Super indeed! And don’t compare this to Romans watching lions chew Christians. No other empire had such a super military. Don’t remind anyone that it hasn’t won a war since 1945 -- with a little help from the Soviet Union -- to defeat Hitler’s armies. We still have a super economy, albeit sinking into recession. The number of and drug trafficking billionaires and multimillionaires continues to grow and enjoy super-power and super comfort. The less affluent and less super majority suffer super psychic and material deprivation. Imagine not being able to shop at post holiday super sales, and get super discounts! The documentary movie “Supersize Me” dramatized the virtue of eating super meals at McDonald’s and the other chains that specialize in super fattening food. The Super Bowl, the most watched television event in the country, pitted players that had endured seventeen games of mutual battering, bone breaking, concussions, torn cartilages and sprains. Dozens of injured players sat on sidelines or in hospitals watching their steroid-riddled brethren -- juiced by injections of speed to make them more “competitive.” An injured player receives a Novocain injection to mask the pain so he can keep playing. “That shows heart,” say the announcers. Pre game ceremonies feature squadrons of military jets streaking over the stadium. During half time, top entertainers sang and played. A super party! Four years ago a Janet Jackson breast accidentally slipped from its flimsy covering. Scandal!!! The TV network paid huge fines for this insult to public decency. I recall Jackson replacing her milk gland, and the players resuming their physical mauling. That’s clean sport! This year a drum roll accompanied an armed group marching onto the field. “Present arms.” The super TV screen showed marines in Iraq. An American Idol winner sang the Star Spangled Banner. Cut to ads for credit cards from a bank that has lost billions in the mortgage scandal, and from Ford pushing a gas guzzling truck. The game lasted 60 minutes; the super TV show, three and a half hours. Sports Bar discussion centered on which commercial was best. At home, according to medical experts, more men suffer heart attacks and strokes eating too much fat, drinking too much and feeling depressed over the loss of money they had wagered on the Patriots. A small price to pay for super sports culture! We love sports. We play them when we’re kids and bet on them ever after. The nation had one day to recover before the next super event. On Monday, February 4, Hillary Clinton called me three times. I tried to interrupt, but she kept talking saying the identical thing: vote for me. Obama didn’t call, but at a busy San Francisco intersection, a middle-aged Obama lover pleaded that “he has soul and will do great things.” What does he stand for? I asked. “Hope,” replied an eighteen-year-old woman. “Faith,” said an elderly Latino man. “We can do it,” laughed the three of them in chorus. How about the issues like cutting the Defense Budget and global warming? He -- like Hillary -- has been vague. “You’ll see,” they assure me, “he has the soul of Martin Luther King, the charisma of John F. Kennedy.” With those solid assurances, why press for details? The super primaries came after months of candidates insulting each other. This spectacle revealed the essential certainty about U.S. electoral politics: the cardinal sin is telling the truth. The media adores the primaries, which offer the corporate press a form of paradise, a chance to fill pages of newspapers and the airwaves -- audio and visual -- with endless pap. Unlike the Super Bowl, the Democratic primary did not come up with a winner. Hillary holds a very slim lead in the number of delegates pledged to her. Several primaries in states like Texas, Maryland and Virginia might offer further clues as to who will get the prize. If it stays close, pundits predict non-elected Party bosses will decide on Hillary in hotel rooms in Denver, the site of the August Democratic Convention. The Republicans face chaos and disarray. At least Rudy Giuliani’s pitiful vote tally in Florida removed him. Romney dropped out after Super Tuesday, leaving front-runner Arizona Senator John McCain and former Governor Mike Huckabee (making him very vice-presidential) and, far behind, Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul of Houston. (Libertarian means anarchist with money). Paul swears to get out of Iraq, and reduce the destructive military budget and stop the invasion of civil liberties carried out by agencies empowered by Congress to deal with Bush’s war on terrorism. Paul doesn’t believe the government should tax citizens; nor does he think labor unions should have rights. He got between 3% and 21% in most of the primaries. Huckabee took states with large Christian fundamentalist voting populations -- his home state, Arkansas, and other Bible Belt states, like Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee. This is quite a feat. A 21st Century candidate for President does not believe in evolution, and assures his flock that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth simultaneously. Like Bush, who also doubts evolution, Huckabee thinks the popular children’s cartoon show, “The Flintstones,” is a documentary. Ironically, McCain’s victory came in states that will vote Democrat: California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut. Huckabee picked up the evangelical vote, but even if McCain chooses him for running mate, the Republican right wing will remain antagonistic. The Party bullies hate Huckabee’s populist language and policies. As Arkansas governor he empathized with the poor and didn’t kick out all the illegal immigrants. He backed social and jobs programs for the poor. But the ultra rightists save their real animus for McCain. Rev. James Dobson, a heavyweight “family” partisan, was “deeply disappointed the Republican Party seems poised to select a nominee [McCain] who did not support a Constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, voted for embryonic stem-cell research which would kill nascent human beings, opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty, has little regard for freedom of speech.” He further derided McCain for his “legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.” The Arizona Republican endorsed McCain, but complained that “McCain often insults people and flies off the handle." His talk of more war and never “waving the white flag in Iraq” has caused many to wonder about his prudence. Seventy per cent of the public, after all, want the troops to come home. If the Iraqis begin to attack US forces in the next few months and casualty rates rise again, McCain will look much less attractive. The Republican Party, once united behind Reagan and the Bushes, now spins out of control. Bush’s neocons and their Iraq war combined with Bush’s soft position on immigration -- don’t kill or deport all of them -- has caused splits and defections. From now until the November presidential vote, the public will suffer the heaviest marketing blitz in history. Slogans and sound bites will fill the air like jingle bells. No candidate will err on the side of veracity and confront the fact that he or she has no answers to deal with the nation’s diving economy or the futile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; nor will they address spending national treasure on death and destruction. Super candidates don’t offer solutions. They stick to change and hope -- and talk of “my health plan” while using superlatives to refer to the abysmal state of the country’s affairs. How else to win elections? In 1972, I made the “The Jail.” In the film, the jailhouse chef addressed prisoners’ complaints about the inedible food he cooked: “You can’t please everybody.” The Democratic candidates should learn this lesson and tell the majority how they’ll fix the economy, reduce the Defense Budget and get the hell out Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as they take office.
Saul Landau is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and a senior fellow of the Transnational Institute. His latest book is A Bush and Botox World. His latest film is We don't play golf here! and other stories of globalization (winner of best activist video award at S.F. Video Fest).