May 22, 2013
Feast of Fools
Posted on Sep 20, 2012
By Lewis H. Lapham, TomDispatch
Paine’s misfortunes speak to the difference between politics as a passing around of handsome platitudes and politics as a sowing of the bitter seeds of social change. The speaking of truth to power when the doing so threatens to lend to words the force of deeds is as rare as it is brave. The signers of the Declaration of Independence accepted the prospect of being hanged in the event that America lost the war.
Our own contemporary political discourse lacks force and meaning because it is a commodity engineered, like baby formula and Broadway musicals, to dispose of any and all unwonted risk. The forces of property occupying both the government and the news media don’t rate politics as a serious enterprise, certainly not as one worth the trouble to suppress.
It is the wisdom of the age—shared by Democrat and Republican, by forlorn idealist and anxious realist—that money rules the world, transcends the boundaries of sovereign states, serves as the light unto the nations, and waters the tree of liberty. What need of statesmen, much less politicians, when it isn’t really necessary to know their names or remember what they say? The future is a product to be bought, not a fortune to be told.
Happily, at least for the moment, the society is rich enough to afford the staging of the fiction of democracy as a means of quieting the suspicions of a potentially riotous mob with the telling of a fairy tale. The rising cost of the production—the pointless nominating conventions decorated with 15,000 journalists as backdrop for the 150,000 balloons—reflects the ever-increasing rarity of the demonstrable fact. The country is being asked to vote in November for television commercials because only in the fanciful time zone of a television commercial can the American democracy still be said to exist.
Copyright 2012 Lewis Lapham
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