I’ll admit it, I’ve been a little obsessed with the election primary this year. To a perhaps unwholesome degree. Part of it is the horse-race aspect of the thing. I have fond memories of watching Canadian election returns with my parents in the basement rec room as a child, fascinated by the red-blue electoral maps*, not really understanding the politics involved but able to understand the abstract contention of opposed forces, embodied in the figures of Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark. I can’t vote in the U.S., so while I have my opinions, I still tend to approach the whole political process with the same kind of abstraction, a tendency to obsess over the minutiae of polls and strategies and counter-strategies, who’s up, who’s down, etc. — in other words, I’m the sort of person that seriously political people hate. They want you to love a candidate (their candidate), not the mechanics of the process, but I’m wary of giving my heart away to a leader. (Just asking to have it broken if you do.) Someone in the comments once congratulated me for being “on board” for Ron Paul, but he was mistaken. I’m not “on board” for anyone.**
So, anyway, the primaries: Hillary vs. Obama is still very much worth following, but there’s not much suspense left in the Republican race at this point. To judge by posts by my fellow musicology bloggers, Obama’s taking the musicology vote in a walk. Phil Gentry had a characteristically interesting take:
. . . as a scholar of performance, and political performances in particular, I also support Obama because of the quality of that performance. I mean that literally: Obama wears great clothes, picks great tunes, runs well-produced commercials. I like that he speaks in paragraphs, listens closely, and gives the appearance of some sort of interior life. Clinton has some of these abilities as well, but for my aesthetic taste, Obama’s performance is vastly superior. Aesthetics matter, and when good taste collides with a progressive past and sufficient hope for a progressive future, I’m sold.
Of course, this is the sort of thing that makes HRC supporters see red. Style over substance! But I’m sympathetic to Phil’s point here, because (as I’ve said before), style is substance. One of my favorite quotes is Oscar Wilde’s line that Susan Sontag used as an epigram for her classic substance-of-style essay “Against Interpretation”: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Or, as Norman Mailer wrote (of the philosophy he learned from Dwight Macdonald), “if it feels bad, it is bad.”
It’s interesting how much of the business of Obama’s stylistic substance has been played out in musical terms. Gabriel Solis wrote a very good post (the comments are especially worth reading) on Maureen Dowd’s swipe at Obama’s “smooth-jazz modernity.” I’ve written before that if we’re judging candidates solely on the tunes that candidates have chosen for themselves, Obama wins easily. In the last few weeks there has been an interesting parallel phenomenon: unsolicited musical tributes to Obama. The one everyone has seen is the one with Will.I.Am, which Gabriel has also written about.
In the last few days a couple of new ones have appeared. There’s this Mariachi corrido from Texas:
And a reggaeton tribute:
I’ve tried to find equivalent musical tributes for HRC, but god help me this is the only one I could find, and the comparison is not flattering:
If anyone can find other musical tributes to Clinton, please let me know. But from what I can tell, Obama has a commanding musical advantage in this race.
UPDATE: Rebecca points out this one for HRC:
*in Canada, red is liberal, blue is conservative, and NDP was something else, maybe green?
**Least of all Ron Paul, who disgraced himself by letting revolting race-baiting and gay-baiting propaganda go out under his name. This article by Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel tells you all you need to know about the whole sad story. It’s worth noting that one of the most dismaying aspects of this whole thing was how Paul’s libertarian followers, people who aren’t supposed to be followers at all but instead are supposed to raise distrust of political leaders to a point of principle, turned into Stalinoid hacks and insisted that Sanchez and Weigel be good little soldiers and keep quiet for “the cause.” Wrote Sanchez:
Maybe the most common beef I’m hearing from sane-seeming people is that we shouldn’t be talking about this stuff. It reflects badly on libertarianism, and Paul is still great all things considered especially compared with the wretched alternatives.
All other considerations aside, this is just premised on a repulsive conception of how libertarian journalists ought to operate—essentially as though “libertarian” nullifies “journalist” any time we’re faced with a choice between reporting facts and cheerleading for our tribe. It’s an argument with terrible pedigree, and reminds me more than a bit of an old essay in which Noam Chomsky argues scholars shouldn’t write about the Killing Fields in Cambodia, because fighting capitalism was more important than, you know, facts.