Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Can Buffy Save the Democrats?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/9/08

There is something here in the air of northern New England which was not here when I was a child. It seems to have come into the world like a spirit born of its own accord in the early Sixties when the great elms died all throughout the region’s countryside. It is the dissident spirit of trash social studies which pervades the university, politics, the press and the public culture up here and it has mushroomed in my lifetime. And it has moved now across the heartland.

It is a witch spirit.

Nathanial Hawthorne says it is a life force from the spirit world which has always been here. It comes, he says, from “those strange old times, when fantastic dreams and madmen’s reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life.”
When I attended the University of Massachusetts in late Sixties early Seventies, this spirit rose into the world and Awakened, much like the corpse plant that hatches every 50 years or so in the Smithsonian’s Botanical Garden.

It was a spirit pretentious and somewhat pitiful. It seeped throughout my generation and pervaded New England, like the ooze of industrial sludge which covered the ponds in towns like Fall River, where I grew up. It was a kind of half-knowledge and half-hostility which had no light within itself and saw itself exclusively in opposition to power.

In the lexicon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this spirit manifests as Revenge Demons. Regular viewers of Buffy know what Revenge Demons are. They are malevolent spirits which identify at every turn with the discontent, rather than with the civilization. They come out of the earth just when you are doing something joyful, healthy and family-like, such as trimming the Christmas tree and stuffing stockings, and they attempt to disrupt the situation.

Buffy is the avatar and front line of defense against Revenge Demons. In Buffy World, men are no longer men and they no longer have the political will to defend themselves, their traditions and their families. Indeed, family is a shattered shard of the past and men who once defended the hearth have been made cowering wimps by these Creatures from Beneath the Earth. So Buffy – for aficionados, she is technically the Earth Mother Incarnate and we call her The Slayer – has to take it back by herself with her few heroic mortal apprentices.

The Democratic Party in the last week may have experienced full possession by Revenge Demons. It could well be a permanent condition now. If so, the party will go the way of the Whigs.

The first few days after the announcement of Sarah Palin as Vice President, the Revenge Demons found possibly their finest hour and struck their most venomous chord. New York Times columnist William Kristol offered a few snippets from New Republic editor, Martin Peretz, blogging directly after the speech: “give [Palin] her due: she is pretty like a cosmetics saleswoman at Macy’s . . .good to see that the Palin family didn’t torture poor Bristol, at least in the open. . . . Yes, please God, do bless America and rescue us from these swilly people.”

Right now we are seeing the bitter reenactment of the anti-war movement toward the end of the war in Vietnam, a movement which deeply damaged the party when its candidate, George McGovern, lost to Richard Nixon, 49 – 1.

The Democrats suffered also an almost a complete defeat with Eisenhower and again in Ronald Reagan’s second term. The return of the nihilist Vietnam-era attitudes could this time be a mortal blow to the Democrats.

But I feel here in northern New England that there is something in the Democrats that likes to lose.

I worked for Wesley Clark’s candidacy in 2004 here in New Hampshire and at a house party in Concord Wes’s state director, a political consultant well-known nationally, expressed her excitement in having General Clark on board saying it was “ . . . just like George McGovern.” I knew then that we were screwed.

It is a sense of superiority we feel; like the poet’s circle or the esoteric realm of occult game players lost in their own aura in the darkened corners of the head shop. High-minded failure leaves us pure. But high-minded failure also relieves us from responsibility and grants unlimited power to the opposition. Perhaps history has passed us by up here – moving with the economy and population to the South and the Southwest and places where we never venture – and it has left us bitter and disaffected.

I supported Wes and still do because he brought a singular character to the Democratic party which we had not seen in a long time. He was the odd man out and was not at all characteristic of Democrats. I felt he could possibly restore a moribund party by giving it the heart of a bull dog. Likewise, Obama is a unique individual with great skill, intuition and abilities. But that was introduced on Oprah and rapidly rose in the mainstream thereafter is almost farcical. No reflection on him or Oprah. I greatly admire Obama and especially Oprah, the “free woman” who successfully takes on the world with her bare hands. But with Obama, like Clark, we were looking for a single-combat warrior to single-handedly find some direction – any direction- for the Democratic Party. We were not looking for a platform. We were looking for a savior.

And even at that, Obama had to fight his own party all the way.

Anyone who watched the speeches at the Republican Convention on the night of Sarah Palin’s speech couldn’t help but notice a conspicuous absence. There was not one mention – not one mention – of George Bush all through the night. Compared to the Democratic Convention the week before when they couldn’t get the Clintons off the stage, and Obama had to use a varied of shrewd maneuvers to trick and out stage them.

I have questioned whether or not the Democratic party can survive the Clintons. Truthfully, I don’t think they can. Whenever Bill appears with Obama as he does today, Obama’s numbers go down, and now he has few numbers left to keep him above water. Obama is the last hope for the Democrats. Without him they have nothing left, only the Clintons. And that is not a political party. That is a personality cult.

It has been theorized that the Whig party fell to defeat for two reasons: The Mexican War, although in Grant’s opinion it was merely a war of the strong against the weak, was not supported by the Transcendentalists and many in the Boston region took on a diffident air. The other reason is that they became effete, superior and disaffected. They took pride in esoteric and detached issues. They became irrelevant and they came to consider their irrelevance to be evidence of themselves as being of a higher order.

We hear it again. With McGovern and with others, frequently Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, who ran for president in 2004. Dr. Dean, after his time was up in Vermont, was looking for a job and got one. But on the build up to the 2008 race you would hear again and again on the blogs that one candidate or another was “ . . . the new Howard Dean.”

Note to Democrats: George McGovern lost. Howard Dean lost. Wesley Clark lost. And if the party doesn’t find a more civil tone and a more relevant and responsible direction, it will lose everything.

27 comments:

darrelplant said...

McGovern lost to Richard Nixon, one of the most corrupt and devious people ever to inhabit the White House. He lost because leaders and allies of his own party who had supported the Vietnam war since the beginning were too blindered by their own prejudices to grasp that McGovern was right about the war, and rather than let 50,000 dead Americans, a couple million dead Vietnamese, and a faltering economy change their prejudices, they decided to throw their arms around Nixon, who would end up resigning, preceded by the resignation of his vice president and the convictions of dozens of White House and administration officials.

You may be right about the vestigial days of the Democratic party, but that legacy isn't the fault of McGovern any more than his loss was. It was a failure of people like Daley and Meany to respond to a changing situation. When that opportunity presented itself, they hugged Nixon so tight it looked like McCain on Bush.

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