Here’s a link to an article about the upcoming election by Joan Didion. It’s a short piece with a long provenance; it is brought to you via The Daily Beast (where it is nicely titled “Slouching Toward Washington”), from today’s Salon (where it is given the rather slapdash title “Election by sound bite”), which reprints it from the election issue of The New York Review of Books, where it was printed as part of a series of untitled articles.
It’s offered here as much on the grounds that anything Joan Didion writes ought to be read than for any particular intrinsic merits. In its NYRB context it was intended to present a series of observations rather than make any particular point. And there’s no doubt that it’s a typically stylish collection of apercus.
For at least some months it had been clear that we were living in a different America, one that had moved from feeling rich to feeling poor. Many had seen a mandate for political change. Yet in the end the old notes had been struck, the old language used. The prospect for any given figure had been evaluated, now as before, by his or her “story.” She has “a wonderful story” we had heard about Condoleezza Rice during her 2005 confirmation hearings. “We all admire her story.” “I think she’s formidable,” Senator Biden said about Governor Palin a few weeks ago. “She has a great story. She has a great family.”
Senator Biden himself was said to have “a great story,” the one that revolved around the death of his first wife and child and taking the train from Washington to Wilmington to be with his surviving children. Senator McCain, everyone agreed, had “a great story.” Now as then, the “story” worked to “humanize” the figure under discussion, which is to say to downplay his or her potential for trouble. Condoleezza Rice’s “story,” for example, had come down to her “doing an excellent job as provost of Stanford” (this had kept getting mentioned, as if everyone at Fox News had come straight off the provost beat) and being “an accomplished concert pianist.”
Now as then, the same intractable questions were avoided and in the end successfully evaded. The matter of our continuing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and our looming engagements throughout the region had been reduced to bickering over who had or had not exhibited “belief in the surge.” “Belief in the surge” had been equated with the “success” of the surge, and by extension of our entire engagement in Iraq, as if that “success” were a fact rather than a wish. Such doublespeak was rampant. The increasing destabilization of the economy was already clear — an average of 81,000 jobs a month were lost all through the summer — but discussion of how to resolve the bleeding still centered on such familiar favorites as tort reform. This word “reform” kept resurfacing, but the question of who exactly was to be reformed was left to be explored mainly on “The View,” by Barbara Walters.