Sunday, October 15, 2006

Democratic Dreamboats

I'm writing this from Jonny Dach's apartment, above Cafe Adulis on College St. Right now, it's the unofficial headquarters of The New Journal as we trudge through production before Volume 39, Issue 2 debuts next Friday. It's been a busy week--I've been pulling all nighters working on my article, which is longer than a hillbilly's rattail--and now its a busy weekend, as production demands my presence from noon 'til night.

I had enough free time,
however, to spend a few minutes reading this WaPo article, courtesy of my friend Stan. The piece appeared in Saturday's Politics section, but it may as well be a Modern Romance column in the Times: We're given an in-depth examination of the new crop of H-O-T-T-I-E-S on the left, and told how it's going to pan out into a Dem-packed congress this fall.
Maybe Democractic candidate Michael Arcuri is running strong in this Republican House district because he pledges to expand health coverage, balance the budget and raise minimum wage.

Or maybe its his piercing Italian eyes and runner's physique.
Great writing. Picture at the top of this post is Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Martin O' Malley, the current Mayor of Baltimore (that's him and his wife, doing their best JFK and Jackie O impersonation). He's an awesome guy--I met him three years ago, when I was teaching in an inner city Baltimore school--and, as you can see, a stone fox. This is a big season for governor's races, and Maryland's is no exception. In the last Gallup poll, O' Malley was beating incumbent Robert Erlich by a little over ten points. If it comes down to the wire, might Martin's baby blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones, and the sleeveless muscle tees he wears while playing in his rock band nudge him to victory? Is that very question problematic?
Arcuri's theory is that voters have an immediate, visceral reaction to candidates that, if powerful enough, can trump ideology or party affiliation. "How do you get around the status quo? You look for younger, energetic faces," he said. But while people may decide in an instant whether or not they are able to vote for him, he said, "then they have to know you can do the job."
Stan sent me this article because it's something we discussed a lot over the summer; the question stemmed from a debate over the rationale for Barack Obama's immense popularity. I sent him a Joe Klein article about Jon Tester (D-Montana) for the Nation web feed; Klein's language, while couched in a more sophisticated argument, uses an eerily similar rhetoric. (Side note: The Klein article was bumped off the feed because, apparently, Katrina van den Heuval hates his ass)
Tester, who is the Democratic candidate for the US Senate from Montana, has the most distinctive hand wave in American politics, a thumb-and-pinkie hook-'em-horns waggle. Indeed, Tester's physical presence--he's a big old farm boy with a flattop crew cut--is a political statement that stands close to the heart of the national Democratic congressional campaign of 2006.
Leftist academics like Stan (joke) are wary of this tactic: drawing voter's attention to qualities like physical appeal, character traits, or colloquial hand waves rather than issue stances seems so...Republican. My first instinct, however, was to applaud these appeals to the lowbrow. Call me a cynic, but I'm reminded of my mother, a fence-sitter during the 2004 election, phoning me and saying, "Honey, that John Kerry isn't so bad...I just heard on the radio that he windsurfs."

The issue parallels, I think, a famous debate between Peggy Kamuf, a French deconstructivist, and American Nancy Miller over the role, purpose, and theoretical stance that feminism should take in an age where post-structuralism had done away with the subject. Kamuf, coming from Theory's corner in the conceptual boxing ring, speaks against the danger of institutionalization--against embracing an essential female subject/genre for pragmatic purposes. On the side of Practice we have Miller, who argues that feminists' political demands outweigh epistemological concerns. In shorthand, she says that you can't play with Theory if you don't have the power to do so.

While I tend to agree with Kamuf--or at least, my senior essay will--I realize that, although the Democratic party hardly aligns with marginalized groups like Feminist, Queer, and Postcolonialist critics, condoning the usage of physical/character appeals over the issues enacts a similarly strategic operation. Lately, I feel like every problem I come across boils down to this binary: Theory vs. Practice. I suppose the correct move, then, would be to prove that the two aren't mutually exclusive...


Anonymous said...

Dead link: The New Journal doesn't link to anything. This is a travesty.

elmrockcity said...

Anonymous, I can only hope (assume) that you're another TNJ editor...