Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Super Tuesday's Shakespearean Echoes



"FALSTAFF: We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.

SHALLOW: That we have, that we have, that we have; in faith, Sir John, we have."


Looks like Hilary Clinton, who was more or less pronounced dead in her campaign for the White House, pulled another New Hampshire yesterday when she won the support of Ohio and Texas. Everyone was surprised, and so was I.

I wonder about this ebb/tide fluctuation that seems to characterize the Democratic nomination process. Just when Obama seems poised for a complete take over, and Clinton appears somewhat tired and discouraged, plodding along like the conscientious and dutiful civil servant she is, resurrection occurs and she is re-installed firmly into the race.

So I wonder if there is not more to it than meets the eye. It's a tad hard to explain what I mean. We have all witnessed with differing degrees of anxiety or enthusiasm how Obama has swept the masses along with his message of hope, how state after state have fallen, prostrated with adulation, at his feet. The chanting, the messianic expressions, the wild-eyed ecstasy of his supporters which proved absolutely contagious and effective. Until, until, a moment of serious reckoning arrives, and the momentum screeches to a halt, and it is Clinton that is given the go-ahead.

So I wonder if the American public is trying to hold both ends of the stick, eat their cake and have it, too. So they indulge themselves by succumbing to Obama for all the wrong reasons (A Hollywood version of what politicians should be like), and they get carried away, but when the moment of truth comes to hand him the spectre of real power, they hold back. A greater awareness of personal responsibility, what some would call maturity, prevails and they opt for the candidate they know can do the job.

There are two possible ways of looking at this dynamic:

One possibility is classroom politics, where Savanna is a cool girl who dominates the class in popularity and charm, and Shirley is the studious, hard working girl who always gets A+'s, but is somewhat denied more than a marginal role in that classroom society; though everyone respects her, she is also a bit resented and therefore discounted. But when the time comes for choosing a representative to go speak to the principal about changing an exam date, or reducing some of the material for that exam, the class, almost unanimously votes for the bespectacled, serious Shirley. They know that Shirley can get the job done for them. Even though they would like to vote for the charismatic popular Savanna. Notwithstanding the possibility that Savanna might be quite equipped to do the job, given the chance.

The alternative possibility puts me in mind of another Shakespearean moment. Obama is like Prince Hal, part-time prince-in-waiting and part-time reveller patronizing Eastcheap's taverns. Falstaff is Hal's pub-hopping friend. He and his entourage of scoundrels please and flatter Hal. Hal experiences through his association with Falstaff a freedom from convention and a sense of ambiguous leadership. Simultaneously, he pursues a furtive career strategy. He plays a rogue-princely role to Falstaff's knavery, thus lowering everyone's expectations. Eventually, Hal emerges as a great king, not before he discards his erstwhile friends, much to their chagrin. For Harold Bloom, Hal is a cold political opportunist. But nonetheless, a leader who attended Lee Iacoca's counsel about leadership: "I forgot to shake hands and be friendly. It was an important lesson about leadership."

In the first scenario, Obama is the class princess Savanna, whom all like and adulate but none trust enough to give her the responsibility of a serious mission.

In the second scenario Obama is Prince Hal, who gets what he needs from befriending the sycophants and commoners, but eventually stirs clear of them, knowing full well that he cannot perform his onerous responsibilities unless they are removed far from the close spheres of the Oval Office.

And maybe the two scenarios are not alternatively apposite, but rather consecutive. Once Savanna realizes that her beauty and charisma alone cannot ensure her the leadership she covets, is she not likely to follow in Prince Hal's footsteps?

I have never witnessed a more dramatic, nay, Shakespearean, elections campaign in the US. The spectacle and the insights it opens up about the nature of Americanism, are thoroughly mesmerising.

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Past Obama-drama musings by the Contentious Centrist: here, here , here, and here.

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