Tuesday, October 12, 2010
A glorious fall in this season of political discontent
It's been so beautiful this autumn, we've been getting out of Madison roaming around to see the fall colors. They're somewhat muted this year -- a "burnt umber autumn," M said -- but there are still patches of brighter color here and there. Sometimes they catch fire in the late afternoon sun, as in this view of the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center on the Wisconsin River near Spring Green.
The natural world is so lovely and harmonious this fall. It would be great if things were equally harmonious among us humans, but the beauty of nature can be deeply deceptive. When World War I began, the "Guns of August" sounded when most of Europe was experiencing some of the most stunning weather in years. The World Trade Center towers fell on a perfect September day for most of the country. Similarly, this beautiful autumn masks deep partisan divisions in the American spirit. We're at odds with each other all over the country, and a right wing populist offensive has Democrats running scared everywhere.
Judging from the yard signs in some parts of Madison, you'd think that Democrat Russ Feingold has it made in his run for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. You'd be wrong. Feingold is in the political fight of his life, trailing his political neophyte opponent, the Tea Party-friendly businessman Ron Johnson, in most polls.
Whatever its actual size in square miles, liberal Madison is not, as the phrase "x square miles surrounded by reality" suggests, very representative of the rest of the state, where unemployment is much higher and more people are hurting. They're angry, they want someone to blame, and so they're in an anti-incumbent mood. We saw evidence of this in our drives outside Madison recently. Feingold signs were few and far between. I was so startled to see one on a street corner in Sheboygan that I almost drove right through a stop sign. Whereas signs for Ron Johnson, who began his political career at a Joe the Plumber rally in Oshkosh in 2008, seemed to be everywhere.
Johnson and similar candidates around the country are capitalizing on an angry mood that's fueled by talk radio, Fox News, and millions of dollars worth of corporate money flooding into anonymously funded attack ads (thanks Supreme Court). People are angry and think the county is going to hell in a hand basket because they're being persuaded the country is going to hell in a hand basket by a well-oiled propaganda machine.
Remember how in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest numbered years were replaced by corporations buying namng rights to years, as in "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment"? Maybe we should stop talking about 2010 and just come out and call it "Year of Fox News."