Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Defense of Talking Stump

I'm not a fan of Clint Eastwood.  I haven't seen many of his movies (in fact, I don't think I've seen any except for Gran Torino).  Those who know me know I've got—personal and philosophical problems, with language and violence on film.  I spent most of The Dark Knight Rises with my head either between my knees or behind my hands.  This actually makes me uniquely qualified to be a movie critic.  After all, how many reviewers write from that perspective?

It should be clear, then, that I have no bias in the matter.  I am not a fan of Clint Eastwood.  But I thought his speech at the convention was, well, funny.  Rambling?  Sure.  Bewildering?  At times.  Embarrassing?

Because he's an old man whose hair stuck out like Einstein's?  Because he talked to an empty chair?  Because he told jokes that we've all heard before?  Isn't this what all old men do?  Embarrassing?  No, the thing that embarrassed me was notion floated among some of my young contemporaries who seem to think that the only way to age is to do it like Judy Dench: by becoming even more powerful, eloquent, and attractive to the opposite sex than one was in one's youth.  That is embarrassing: the fact that young men and women in their twenties could be so attached to their youth that they can't bear to be reminded of what old age looks like.

Anyway, Clint was funny.  Rubio was amazing.  Ryan was impressive.  Romney ... well, I didn't listen to Romney, because I'm not voting for Romney.  I'm voting against Obama.  On this I agree not with Ryan (who felt obliged as the VP to say nice things about Romney for Romney's sake) but with Boehner, who opened the convention with the "fundamental question, Can we do better?"

I shouldn't have thought that there could be much question about that.  Romney is not my favorite politician (and anyway, having a favorite politician is like having a favorite out-patient surgery) but I would vote for a talking stump to get the current incumbent out of the White House.  Romney, unlike Talking Stump, has a chance of winning.  Romney is not very conservative.  Romney is not our savior.  Romney is not the next Reagan.  Romney is not really pro-life; but he's not militantly pro-choice either; in fact, he's not militantly anything, except militantly successful.  I feel sort of the same way about Romney that I did about Achilles and Alexander the Great and Batman.  Ehhh ... wow!  ...  But ... wow!  ...  But ...

Now, Ryan.  My goodness, Ryan?  Do we really have to defend this guy?  After all, isn't the enemy of my enemy my friend?

So they used to say, but no more.  Ryan's not pro-life enough.  He supported the Bush administration.  He supported the war in Iraq.  He went waffly on the abortion-in-difficult-circumstances thing.  He's not pure.

Peoples, please!  He's a politician!  A successful politician!  You think he tells us the truth?  You think he thinks he can get elected by telling us the truth?  I think you need to see a psychiatrist.  Or maybe just go talk to Rick Santorum.

This is a sad state of affairs, the fact that politicians need to say all kinds of things which they may or may not believe, and make all kinds of promises which they may or may not intend (or be able) to keep.  A sad state of affairs, and it has existed since at least ancient Greece; I daresay since Babel and possibly even before.  We shouldn't make knights in shining armor of our leaders who aren't, but it is hardly fair castigate them for being no better than We the People have made them.  People who stump have to do stump talk.  It's that simple.

I will go one step further.  There is nothing inherently immoral with lowering one's sights from the perfect to the possible.  I would like to see a society without no-fault divorce.  There's a darn good argument, from a sociological and a natural law perspective, as to why that would be a good thing.  If I were running for office today, I would not make these arguments; at the very least, I would not advertise my opinion on the subject or make it part of my platform.  I'd say some vague fluffy things about "family values."  Sneaky?  Absolutely.  Effective?  More so than running on no-fault divorce.

When the Romney-Ryan campaign lets out a statement saying that they will not oppose abortion in cases of rape ... does that make Paul Ryan a traitor?  Does that mean he's not really pro-life, or that he was but he's sold out?

No.  It means that he's decided (or rather, has gone along with the Romney campaign's decision) that they are not going to fight that particular battle right now.  That's probably not the decision I would have made.  But I'm blamed if I can see what's so horrible about saying we won't deal with this one right now.  Is abortion a horrible thing?  Yes.  Always?  Yes.  The taking of an innocent human life?  Yes.  But not everyone in America believes that, yet.  And not everyone who believes that, believes that it matters fully.  And under those circumstances, you should not demand utter forthrightness from a politician, and expect to see him elected.

It's so easy to lionize the men in the public eye; it's even easier to demonize them.  These are not gods; these are men.  Spies equivocate, politicians exaggerate, and old men ramble on and on.  They have heads of gold and thews of brass and feet of clay.  We'd like to see them eternally wise, young, and good—gold all the way down.  We'd like to hold back our votes until "God make[s] men of some other metal than earth."

Good luck with that.


  1. Ahah! This answers some questions about something else, more parabolic... OK. Good.

    For What It's Worth (ymmv) it would seem that Diocletian at least came to power in an honest, if sticky, manner; and as the only Roman Emperor to voluntarily retire, that didn't turn out... well, actually, yes, it turned out pretty bad, but still.

    When I do consider the verbal misdirection that seems to be not only expected, but demanded of those who seek public office in your country and in my country, I thank goodness for at least the prospect that I can earn my bread and cheese by teaching mathematics. And what I'm thinking of doesn't even approach questions of intrinsic objective evil. There seems at least a significant fraction of voters (in any extant democracy) who expect either impossible magic of those in office or impossible prophecy in campaign; not that I can tell you whence I derive this impression, but I know that there are plenty who adore their candidate before election and revile his duplicity after it. A giddy thing is man?

  2. Thank you for the post. I concur. Don't go badmouthing Achilles and Alexander though.