Given how political conventions are completely devoid of actual news and about as relevant as a melon baller, my mind wandered last night during the Democratic convention. I started mentally comparing it to past conventions and looking at the lineup of speakers in objective terms. After hearing Clinton speak, I was absolutely floored by how terrific he was. It was one of the more amazing political performances in recent memory. Then it hit me.
This is not a good thing.
The idea of great men and women participating in politics is, with my reaction to Clinton, officially dead to me. When the current crop of party leaders, candidates, representatives, and sitting administration are so sub-moronic and coarse that Bill Clinton looks like Lord Palmerston in comparison, we've been witnesses to the death of the idea of the great orator and statesman.
Think about this. Jimmy Carter has been a Democratic pariah for over two decades. In the 1980s they wouldn't give him a damn bleacher seat to the convention……and now he was the lead-off speaker? Jimmy Carter??? In sports they say that a team is really headed for hard times when the rookies aren't good enough to replace the old, broken-down veterans who can't play anymore. The options offered by the current politicians are so bad that in comparison Carter – the least popular president since Hoover – suddenly looks great. Who knew that 20 years beyond Carter's failed administration we'd be looking back on his quivering passivity and lamenting "We had it so good back then."
Who qualifies as a statesman anymore? The regurgitation of insults in sound-bite form have completely replaced oratory and any sense of dignity. What communication does exist simply consists of telling the loyal troops what they already believe. The Republican Party has gone from the eloquent (Lincoln) to the silently dignified (Coolidge) to the vacuous but inspirational (Reagan) to the barely literate. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose mere diction and lunkheaded manner is enough to provoke laughter, is a keynote speaker for the GOP convention. Our current President, when not reading off a script, looks like a man who alternately needs a thesaurus and a clean pair of underpants.
Among the opposition, Jefferson's populism gave way to FDR's fatherly comforts, which in turn begat Kennedy's boy-wonder persona, and finally Bill Clinton's car-salesman charm. John Edwards is just any other lawyer – pointed, myopic, and vaguely threatening. John Kerry couldn't inspire a pack of starving dogs to run towards fresh meat.
Is this what it's come to? We are yielding too much with regards to our expectations. We want a Lincoln or Churchill, but if not we'll take an FDR. If we can't have an FDR then I guess Woodrow Wilson will do. Failing that, can we at least get a Henry Luce? No? Well, how about a Reagan? Oh, come on, you're killing us. Alright. Fine. We'll take Tip O'Neill. Aww, come on, this is bullshit. What do you have?
And that is how Bill Clinton became the greatest living statesman in American politics. No, Bill, that's not a compliment.
Daniel Webster is rolling over in his grave, no doubt. But that much we already knew. What is more troubling is the fact that our national political debate has become so asinine simply because the people conducting it can themselves no longer debate. Camus said "Men with greatness in their hearts do not go in for politics". With the continuous downward revision of the lowest common denominator at the hands of the current President, politicos are revealing a deeper connection to existentialism than I ever knew existed. Because this election is playing out as though everyone involved is on a myopic quest to prove Camus right once and for all.