Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Culture: Understanding the Election

I came across an article (reg. req.) in the New Republic by Tom Frank on the US Senate race between perennial losing candidate Alan Keyes and now senator-elect Barack Obama in Illinois. Writing on Keyes’ performance in a debate against Obama, Frank observes:

As people know, Keyes is candid, eloquent, and intellectually consistent. He argues rather than spins, allowing his logic to take him where it will. He panders to no (earthly) constituency. And he may well have pulled off the impossible last night: lowering his poll numbers even more. Obama is an unconventionally gifted politician, but even an incompetent one--let's go farther, actually: even a dolphin or trained seal--could have done better last night than Alan Keyes. All Obama had to do yesterday was play the Earthling card; Keyes took care of the rest.
Yes. Alan Keyes is a moon bat, albeit an internally consistent one. Frank’s essay goes on to explore just how funny it can be to see a moon bat in flight. But it’s the cashing-in paragraphs where Frank address Keyes' consistency that his essay gets interesting:
[K]eyes is [a] vital contributor to social cohesion in America, because, somehow, he makes us realize we are all--regardless of our political beliefs--Obama. It's not because we disagree with Keyes, or even because we find stridency inherently suspect. Most of us have used our reasoning to reach unexpected conclusions once in a while. Sometimes the results are weird--"It follows, therefore, that we should abolish bricks and live in trees!"--and we reexamine our premises or toss the thoughts altogether. Other times they may be logically valid--"Stubbing my toe hurts, and being burned at the stake hurts, so, actually, both Joan of Arc and I have experienced pain"--but so likely to give offense that we keep them to ourselves. In other words, we recognize that life among other people often requires applying the brakes. Alan Keyes, to his credit, does not. This makes him more courageous, more consistent, and more interesting than most of us. Fortunately, it also makes him unelectable.
Franks is not saying reason requires a commitment to reality that is impossible in a man animated as Keyes is. He’s saying think what you will, but remember that “life among other people often requires applying the brakes.” That’s why you don’t see Objectivists running for office. How could one hope to win?

Religious intrinsicism vs. philosophic skepticism: that was what this election--both in Illinois and nationally--was about this cycle. And that is not a choice. President Bush won his election last night and to the degree it was an affirmation of the American sense of life over the nihilists, I can find comfort with the outcome. That said, the lesson I take from this election is that if Objectivist values are ever to triumph, we have a long, hard road ahead of us.

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