Post-W.

I just finished re-watching George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck.  It was like stepping into a time machine, although not in the way of throwing back to 1953 and Edward R. Murrow’s fight against Joe McCarthy (not to dismiss the excellent historical portrayal of the era).  It was a time machine into the Bush Administration, which is what the movie is really about.  It was about a fiercely-divided America that had been fundamentally ruptured by the attacks of 9/11 and war-hungry response of the Bush Administration.  We were at war not only with “terror”, but with each other.  And our news couldn’t save us.  The news we trusted helped facilitate a march towards war.

I was in college at the time, and being a college student is already far too quick with half-baked ideas.  It’s the last time you can revel in the concept that you know everything (post-academic life quickly lets you know how little you know).  I became a big fan of Michael Moore, because in the 2000s conflict, each side had its heroes.  I look back and shake my head, but Clooney’s film, which I saw in my senior year, persists, while Moore is a joke.

Nevertheless, it was an intense time, and yet oddly simple.  We saw the wedges and knew the problems insofar as the issues.  There was a flood of information, but pro-war, anti-war was easy to understand.  Meanwhile, there was a gathering financial storm that no one cared to notice, and now that we’re still suffering its aftershocks, we still don’t understand it.  We know things are bad, but the reasons are too complicated, and intentionally so.  You instinctively know that it’s bad for someone to fight and die on a lie.  Or perhaps you’re persuaded by the “Fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them here,” argument.  But how many people can explain a credit default swap and why that financial instrument was partially responsible for the downfall of our economic system.  In a run-up to war, we will (hopefully) never again be so quick to accept information because we’re motivated by fear.  But how do you stop a crime you don’t understand?  Obama hasn’t taken any serious steps to punish those responsible for our economic collapse nor has he set up any measures to stop it from happening again.  We still live in dangerous times.  We just can’t clearly articulate it for a variety of reasons.  There are so many distractions, so many opinions, and so many “facts” we glean from the Internet, the box that provides trivia and calls it knowledge.

Bush is gone and the world has tried to forget him (and he’s done his best to help), but I feel like we live in even more dangerous times.  I don’t like thinking that because I know part of that fear is simply me getting older, getting stuck in my ways, looking at the future and fearing what’s to come.  Namely, I fear a world where we’re all disconnected but think we’re closer than ever.  Social networks will provide the illusion of intimacy just like a glance at a webpage or reading a single article will provide the illusion of knowledge rather the truth that we’re swimming in a sea of confirmation bias.

Earlier this week, the Bush Library opened its doors, but it was a small story (as such openings are) mixed in with news about flight delays caused by the sequester, and further developments in the case of the Boston bombers.  The easy joke is to openly wonder if the Library contains a copy of “My Pet Goat”.  I think back to 2005 when ridiculing and despising George W. Bush was a matter of course.  I certainly don’t think Obama would have been elected without Bush.  The extreme change of electing a black president couldn’t have been accomplished without a thoroughly reviled and unpopular previous president (it also didn’t hurt that Clinton ran a shit campaign, and McCain imploded by selecting Palin as his running mate).  But our problems persist, but the political air isn’t thick in the same way.  It’s the air of a stalemate rather than battle.  Washington is broken, it’s broken behind closed doors, and the American people are exhausted from four years of intransigence.

Clooney tried to explore the difficulty of political change in his 2011 film, The Ides of March.  It doesn’t really work since it’s a mixed metaphor where the movie is supposed to be about disillusionment, but because the disillusionment comes from such heightened circumstances (spoiler alert)–the candidate sleeping with a staffer and then the staffer committing suicide–it doesn’t ring true like Good Night, and Good Luck.  It’s because it’s so much tougher to see where we are right now, and that’s the difficulty of the dramatization.

If I sound wistful for the days of Bush’s clear-cut-nation-dividing, I’m not.  I’m absolutely rambling (but it’s for my personal blog, so who cares), but I wonder if I’ll be sitting alone on a Saturday night eight years from now, and looking back at a movie that makes me thinking about the 2010s, and the new kind of dread it inspired.  Will it be about a herald leader not up to the task?  Will it be about a political system that can no longer function because it’s been warped and twisted by time, culture, technology, and money?

Then I have to look at history, shake my head, and laugh a little bit because I feel silly.  I feel that we have to hope because living in hopelessness is no way to live.  Living in fear is no way to live.  Of course, these sentiments are luxuries of a privileged life, and I write them sitting comfortably from my desk chair on my nice computer.

If I don’t stop soon, I’ll ramble on until dawn, so I’ll quickly finish by saying that on November 3, 2004, when Bush had been reelected, the world looked bleak.  It’s almost ten years later, and we’re still here.  Talking about what’s with us will keep me rambling until dawn.

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 politics

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