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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 11/08/2004
Vol. 2, #146

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a column called "Make Sure You're Not Yourself Or You Won't Get Elected"

It jumped out at me because of the election we just went through. I've been asking myself, is Dubya really what he seems to be? Or John Kerry? Where's the "real" John Kerry. The only one who was real as this election started, for me at least, was Howard Dean. Straight out and clear as a bell and he should have been the candidate. Would he have been elected? First, let's take a look at part of the column I mentioned that appeared last January.

"The NYTimes carries an interesting story about how General Clark is trying to soften his image to appeal more to women voters by wearing sweaters in lieu of hard-edged military attire or anything even suggesting the same. Hillary Clinton, in her last election effort, adopted sweaters to give her a softer look. And everybody all over the place is trying to look, dress, suggest that they really aren't who they are at all, but somebody else more electable.

I think they got the idea from Superman, the first of the superheroes. Change your costume, so nobody'll ever recognize who you really are. After all, when it comes to something like the presidency, one has to be absolutely sure that nobody mistakes you for yourself.

Bush, as opposed to General Clark, tried his own hard-edged two-gun landing-on-the-deck-of-a-carrier outfit, just in case anyone decided he wasn't tough and military as his record suggests. That is, he served a soft touch in the National Guard, rarely putting in an appearance, and that simply wouldn't do.

Anyway, that's how it goes, the softies try to look tough, the toughies try to look soft, the hard-edged like Hillary try to look like kittens and no one wants to seem or look as if they might really be who they really are. But, this is sheer lunacy. And it's time we started asking ourselves why we can't find out who our elected representatives really are so we know what in the hell we're voting for.

It's easy.

If I were running for president, what would I do? Seems obvious to me that I'd run as Alvin Schwartz. Not a tough guy at all. Maybe talks too much, but why would I pretend to be anybody else? What happens if I really get elected and the whole sordid truth comes out, I'm not the two gun, pure-as-the-driven-snow, lovable, gentle character my handlers have made me out to be. I'm me, the guy they elected and will have to be no matter how many times I change suits.

Well, maybe not. Let's face it. Politics isn't about anything real. It's all a big act! And the American people seem to be catching on to the game, especially among Republicans. First, in California where all major trends start, they elected Reagan, the actor. Then now, we've got Schwarzenegger, the actor. How do we make sense of all this? I have a suggestion.

Every candidate for important office ought to have a superhero suit. Something designed by their handlers or their favorite stylists so they'll look as good and powerful and effective as possible.

It should all be part of the political system. And it should make for some exciting politics. In fact, I think that candidates vying with each other in fancy symbolic costumes should do more than anything else to stir up interest in a campaign and get out the vote. What images of power, of intelligence, of wisdom can a properly thought out costume provide to turn on the electorate. Think of it. It would be the remaking of this country."

All right, enough of that for now. It's given me some interesting thoughts. When are we ever what we call our REAL selves? The truth is, we're all a thousand different selves, depending on whom we're with or whom we're presenting ourselves to. Which brings to mind one of our leading cognitive scientists, Francisco Varela, the man whose work on the "self" led him to take up Buddhism, precisely because he came to the conclusion that we don't really have a self. For a time, I questioned this, assuming that what Varela really meant was derived from the idea of the Buddha as "the compassionate one", the one who refuses to enter Paradise until he can bring everyone else there along with him. I referred to this kind of self as "the selfless self." But I think I was wrong and Varela was right. It's not that there's no self, but that we only become a "self" in our dealings with other people and situations. Don't we in fact act somewhat differently with each one we know or meet? And in-between? Maybe just plain consciousness, something aware of itself but not beiing itself in any special form until a situation or person arises that calls upon consciousness to behave in a very specific way.

On the other hand, I just can't drop the feeling that folks running for president really should adopt a costume, regardless.. The idea tickles me. It seems so right. They do anyway, in a furtive, cloudy way, so why not come out with it and put on a whole costume? It would certainly make our elections a lot more interesting if not more meaningful. They're not meaningful anyway these days, so why not get some fun out of it.

Anyone in favor of this great idea, write me a letter. And if you've got any ideas of the kind of costumes Kerry and Bush should have been wearing in the last election, make yourself heard, on the round table.

--Alvin

<< 10/25/2004 | 11/08/2004 | 11/15/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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