Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What City Are You In, Daddy?

If you watched last night's Democratic Convention proceedings, you would have seen Michelle Obama "introduce herself," as the cliché goes, "to America," and then you would have seen Barack Obama "call" to congratulate her and the kids on their performance. So, as the talking heads were bloviating about Michelle's "home run" ("she did exactly what she had to do," said the insufferable David Gergen, advisor to every president since George Washington and Polonius reincarnate), I got to thinking about what would have happened had a comparable scene been staged in France. Just try to imagine Carla Bruni rattling on about her first meeting with Sarkozy at a posh Parisian dinner party. And the family vetting? Would she have brought "Nick" home to meet her sister Valeria, an actress rather than a basketball coach like Michelle's brother, and would Valeria have offered an opinion on Nick's prowess as a persuasive public speaker? And how about the kids? Might Jean Sarkozy have motored on stage aboard his scooter, patted Carla on the rump, and asked an image of "daddy" on the television screen what city he was in? "Pontivy, fiston, Pontivy, et qu'est-ce que tu penses de belle-maman? Canon, hein?"

Think of the press. Would this display of pseudo-private life, this wallowing in sentimentality, this transformation of autobiography into political argument have been characterized by a commentator in the following terms:

She both affirmed his promise and humanized him. You could actually imagine their relationship was a real thing–not a symbiotic power alliance, but a union of two different people with different goals who just happen, when they’re not bickering about the butter, to find each other pretty cool. (Katherine Marsh of The New Republic).

Or these (from Andrew Sullivan):

One of the best, most moving, intimate, rousing, humble, and beautiful speeches I’ve heard from a convention platform. Maybe she should be running for president.

Mind you, I offer this comment, this lament, as a committed supporter of Obama. Such blatant sentimentalizing may be--no doubt is--what has to be done to get elected in America. France is still different. Let's hope it stays that way.

ADDENDUM: Rue89's coverage is more sober and clear-eyed than most American accounts.


TexExile said...

Look at the bright side: we're unlikely to have to squirm through anything so cringefully awful when the Republicans gather to nominate McCain, whose family history is perhaps just a little too complicated for that sort of thing. (Come to think of it, this was perhaps an overlooked argument in favour of Hillary in the primaries...)

As for Michelle, it's a pity she's being consigned to such an apparently traditional role. I liked her better when the press thought she was Lady Macbeth.

Unknown said...

Good point. I wonder if the Republicans will address the issue of Cindy McCain's drug addiction and wriggling out of criminal charges:

Anonymous said...

ron tiersky says:

art -

my first reactions were similar to yours. The "reintroduction" of Michelle and the family, including her husband, was embarrassing. It was also very mainstream, as the American electoral process has become.

How intellectuals (myself included) respond to last night's performance may be very different from how it works in the larger electorate. And David Gergen is far from the least insightful commentator on how the American electorate as a whole is likely to react. (Remember that he--a Republican--was brought into the Clinton White House to rescue things at a certain point.)

Unknown said...

Oh, absolutely ... I understand why it was done, and the "elitist" image definitely had to be put aside with something like this Hallmark greeting card. But it still rubs me the wrong way. That, of course, is probably a good thing, since my gut reaction is usually wrong when it comes to the American electorate.

To be sure, I scored points with *my* family for noting that the film about Michelle's family had failed to note that brave old Dad was no doubt looking down proudly from heaven. Sure enough, both Michelle and her brother invoked that indispensable trope. If one of my sons runs for president, I hope he will remember that his dad brought him up to be a cynic about the political process and evoke my moment of prescience on national TV.

TexExile said...

Ron is surely right about the Democrats, and who can blame them? With BO facing off against Big Mac, they understandably want to muscle in on the "family values" thing, which the GOP usually tries to claim for itself. What is appalling is the coverage -- or at least the coverage I've seen today. I don't expect the Dems to project Art's world-weary cynicism, but I wish a few journalists would exhibit just a little of it. One would love to see some semblance of independence and perhaps just the least hint of an awareness of how disingenuous last night's display was. I fear a fair few journalists have drunk the kool-aid. The only comment I've seen that was not fawning (apart from Art's) has come from the other side -- Obama-bashers going into overdrive. A little sober reporting from somewhere in the middle would be welcome.

Boz said...

It got corny at the end, there's no admitting otherwise, though I don't see the problem in recounting one's biography over again for a prime time audience. Sarkozy could have done the same thing in terms of his early life story, in fact he touched on many similar things during his interview with Charlie Rose in 2006/7 (missing father, immigrant roots, working up from the back of the line, etc). Then he brought up a playboy son and married a model... McCain is going to do the same thing, just ignore the marriages and focus on Vietnam. Is all this information really essential for electing a president? Probably not. But it's just another way to judge the character of the candidates, and perhaps just as importantly, see what parts of their lives they are most proud of.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, conventions are circuses. I view the "humanizing" speeches, like Michelle's, as logical consequences of the character assassination campaigns that appear to replace substantive argument in US election campaigns. The way we pick our presidents is so deeply psychological that it is hard to apply the normal standards of political analysis. When I look at the failed party system here in Germany, however, I have a hard time simply dismissing the US variant. But applying rational logic just won't help. You need a Freud to interpret what's going on.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Art, but I couldn't finish reading the whole post. I'm still doubled over laughing, tears blurring my vision re: "Qu'est-ce que tu penses de belle-maman? Canon, hein?"