Today I closed my eyes for just a moment and let the headlines and the soundbites settle in my brain. I imagined I was one of those mythical creatures that philosophers often suppose–a time-traveler or an alien observer of the species, or even something less speculative: a keen observer of the U.S. from outside its white-hot borders. It occurred to me that the events of the past few days have thrown in high relief a phenomenon worth noting:
The faces representing the establishment (or two establishments, as it were) on the cable news networks and newspapers everywhere do not resemble establishment figures of even the very recent past. Four politicians (well, one ex-) duke it out in the popular press: the President, his stalwart Secretary of State, and the former head of state and his very powerful wife (the only serious female contender for the presidency in our history). Of this curious foursome only one is from the landed gentry, while the others represent, respectively, single black women, bootstrap poor white men with boundless ambition, and successful career mothers (with boundless ambition). This curious reshuffling of the race/class/gender cards (and if one credits rumors about Condi’s sexuality, we get all four suits in play) has gone unremarked upon, predictably overshadowed by the blame game. The prominence of Rice and the Clintons–despite their acquired privilege and the polarities of their positions–perhaps sets some historical precedent and marks a sizable demographic shift in the political landscape of the U.S.
While none of the issues surrounding the Wallace interview, the wretched ABC movie, and the fallout therefrom have been framed by the mainstream press in terms of the race, class, gender, and/or sexuality of the participants, these cards are always in play in weird and unsettling ways, as Katrina aftermath and the recent exposure of “gaffs” from the Republican senator from Virginia have kindly reminded us. In trying to get a little distance from the fury, I realized that it is too easy to lose sight of what is greatly at stake in the upcoming elections: our interests as Americans, many of whom are impoverished, uninsured or unemployed, underrepresented, and marginalized or ignored. Even given the appearance of inclusion, it seems important to keep in mind that the Iraq war is, to a large degree, a brutal, dismal cover for the further dispossession and defrauding of a great many Americans. And it is up to all of us to claim our rights.