Did I suggest, yesterday, that I was already ready to jump ship? Not quite so fast. I'm still holding on to the railing as I put my hope--my last hope, really--in the November election. I watched the Obama speech on education at a Virginia high school this morning, and it renewed my faith that this is indeed a man of intellect, understanding, and commitment.
But first, I have been hearing a lot about the passion issue in the past few days. Is Obama running out of steam? Does he seem listless? Is he less forthright, less powerful in intention? Has he said "Enough!" enough? The Tom Friedman opinion piece on the op-ed page of today's New York Times suggested that he is losing/has lost that gut connection with the American voters--and that, no matter her lack of qualifications or preparedness, the Republican nominee for the vice-presidential spot has managed to seize it. I like to believe--I'm hoping--that he knows how to pace himself. A continuous high level of passion is not only hard to maintain, it gets to be irritating, even counter-productive. Palin's high pitch (I'm speaking of intensity, not her voice: would I presume to use the word "shrill"?) is already proving tiresome. I'm confident that Obama will know the right time to switch it on again.
He did say "Enough!" in his speech on education. Twice, in fact. He was referring, in his preamble, to the amount of ink that has been spilled and airspace filled with the absurd brouhaha over his use of that common political speech cliche about "putting lipstick on a pig." It was seized on, of course, in the context of Palin's use of the word "lipstick" in her acceptance speech when, to her audience's delight, she compared herself favorably to a pit bull. When Obama uses it, of course, it's taken as a slur on her feminine virtue. There are bigger issues in this election, he pointed out with quiet clarity, than the trivialities that the Republicans grab on to and the media feed into their twenty-four hour a day hoppers of scandal and irrelevance.
Education, then. Have I mentioned my conspiracy theory in these pages before? I may have done. I've been nursing it ever since Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy" remark which provoked such mirth in the world of politics. I thought then, and still think she was not far off target: for the past fifty years, the right wing has been responsible for the slow throttling and eventual near-demise of America's once-great education system--not merely by starving it, increasingly, of adequate funding for its survival and treating those who practice it with little more than condescension, but by poisoning it at the very roots with a contempt for science and rational thought in general. By "dumbing down" the populace and robbing them of the last vestiges of critical thought by starving them of real education, they have assured themselves virtual control over the direction of the country. The now vacant minds of the public wait eagerly to be filled with whatever lies it takes to sell the product--whether hair spray, giant SUVs, or politician. Uneducated, these minds have no means to resist what is fed into them. They have no language skills to distinguish truth from lies, no mathematical skills to measure their own impoverishment at the hands of those who grow rich. They drink in the toxins of Rush Limbuagh and his ilk in the belief that such people are speaking in their interests. We have reached the travesty of civilization that George Orwell predicted, though in much more subtle and noxious ways than he predicted it.
With such power over minds, it is not hard to persuade a certain part of the voting public that Obama is nothing but hot air and that McCain and his cohort are blessed with infinite wisdom. Obama's speech this morning, for those who took the trouble to listen to it with an open mind, cannot fail to have inspired confidence in his commitment to the improvement of education and opportunity for America's young and his thoughtful, practical and practicable plans to achieve those goals. It's simple, really: if America is to compete with countries like India and China in a globalized economy, education and knowledge are the indispensible tools. If we are to meet such pressing challenges as those presented by climate change, we must educate minds to think in innovative ways.
I have yet to hear substantive plans from the McCain camp on this issue. The politics of resentment and victimhood is not enough. It appals me to be told, by McCain's top campaign advisor, that "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." That's not even good English, but it's clear what it means. In this campaign, lipstick trumps education any day of the week.