Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Judging Cordelia

Bob Somerby's post today is a must read. He discusses in detail two examples of the double standard the media used when "reporting" on Hillary vs. slobbering all over Barry's shoes. The first example shows how the press is trying to prevent considerations of foreign affairs from being used to Obama's detriment jusxtaposed with the blatent use of Bhutto's assassination as an attempt to damage Hillary.

The second example looks carefully at Obama's lie that he was going to use public financing in the general in order to use that "pledge" as a club on Hillary. The Blogger Boyz, naturally, lapped up the high-minded approach of their love object, just as they have on pretty much everything else The Precious has shoveled out of his bullshit bag into their mouths agape with wonder.

Somerby dispenses some judgment of his own. I have cut out the newspaper quotes, though I encourage you to give Bob traffic and read them:

JUDGING CORDELIA: Did Obama reverse his previous stand when it comes to public financing of the general election? In our view, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t. (On Sunday, we thought people looked fairly silly when they said he hadn’t reversed.) You have to slice the meat mighty fine to find escape hatches in Obama’s statements about this matter during 2007. We don’t think his change in stance is the end of the world. But for ourselves, we wouldn’t claim that he didn’t reverse on this matter.

In today’s column in the Post, E. J. Dionne states a similar view. (“Obama’s choice has been criticized by reformers such as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), and even by normally sympathetic editorialists, because his new position contradicts his old one, which was that he would accept public funds...”) But Dionne also says that Obama made “the right call” last week when he eschewed public money. As a general matter, we agree with that too. But we disagree with Dionne’s use of the word “opportunistic:”

...

“Opportunistic?” Why get so hot and bothered? But for the record: If something like “opportunism” was ever present during this long-running financing drama, it was present during 2007, not in this recent decision.

Presumably, Obama will gain an advantage over McCain by making this decision. But in current discussions of this matter, an earlier fact has rarely been noted; Obama gained an advantage over Clinton during the primaries by taking his previous stand. All during 2007, those “normally sympathetic editorialists” compared Obama favorably to Clinton because he was taking a high-minded stand—and because she wouldn’t follow. Let us stress: This wasn’t a giant part of the coverage, but we think it’s worth noting.

....

No, this wasn’t a major part of the primary coverage. But the “Goneril and Regan” aspect of this episode was lightly echoed in other areas—in the press corps’ coverage of “no preconditions,” for example, or in the remarkably unbalanced treatment of the driver’s license issue. (Especially at MSNBC, whose working-class, lunch-bucket journalist heroes were devoted to unvarnished truth. By their own admission.)

Lear loved Goneril and Regan best, because they kept telling him things that weren’t true. Cordelia refused to follow suit. How would “editorialists” at the Post have treated Cordelia’s vile stand?

One of my favorite essays ever is Stanley Cavell's magnificent work on King Lear, "The Avoidance of Love". In it, one of his themes was that love, and those virtues that are related to love, such as honor, responsibility, respect, loyalty and honesty, are not things that can be claimed or spoken. They must be demonstrated. They are, to grab some graduate school lingo, performatives, made actual in the doing, and they bear a difficult relationship to language because they are difficult to represent in that way. Declarations of these virtues, most of which either are also political virtues or else have a political correlate, stand in tension with the actions of the one who declares - the act of declaration is an invitation to judge.

Cordelia was willing to suffer curses and abuse from Lear precisely because she loved him in a way that did not allow her to prostitute that love for gain, exactly in the way that her sisters did. Her love (and thus her integrity) was present in the enactment of it, obeying her father and king's unjust banishment but coming back to try to defend him from the treachery of her sisters, for whom a declaration of love was simply a way to seize power.

The avoidance of love (and it's been a few years since I read the essay), was Lear's downfall. He would not be content with the ordinary expression of this relationship - and the inevitable disappointments of it - avoiding the mundane claims this interaction laid upon him. He purposefully sought what could be counted out in gold, something that he could alienate from himself and thus avoid investing his emotions, and when that transaction was completed, found himself on the losing end of the political power struggle.

Cordelia's love was ordinary, quiet and steady. It did not change to suit the situation, even as she could see the fate that might befall her unless she submitted to her father's imperious demands. Lear was not the only person in the room passing judgment.

I think Bob picked his example very well.

Anglachel

13 comments:

pm317 said...

How ironic? Clinton for most part ran a WYSWYG campaign, something that was true to herself but everyone else got hoodwinked by the poser. Of course, they don't want to admit they were fooled -- instead they applaud Obama's ability to fool them and others -- they call it political strategy. Thanks for expanding on Somerby's Cardelia analogy. Unfortunately Cardelia is not for everyone -- many don't deserve her.

CMike said...

That would make Somerby Cordelia; Olbermann Goneril; Josh Marshall Regan; and the Obamaniacs Lear, right?

femB4dem said...

This may be a bit off topic, but I am truly horrified by a speech Obama gave on religion I have never seen before, that was flagged today by the NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/25/us/politics/25dobson.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1214380834-wuHhNBtnUGpU8cUBwvQUcQ (Sorry, I don't know how to link on this site).

Talk about an area where the mainstream media truly failed to cover an issue. Instead of focusing on the false trial of "is Obama a Muslim?" -- No -- there needed to be coverage of what kind of Christian is Obama? And here I'm not talking about Wright and Pflager, that's another issue all together. I'm talking about whether we now have another candidate on our hands who has the strange relationship to religion Dubya has, believing he's somehow been called by god to what he's doing. Read this passage from that 2006 Obama speech:

"You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

(The entire 2006 speech is posted at: http://www.barackobama.com/2006/06/28/call_to_renewal_keynote_address.php).

"I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me." Anyone else troubled? I paid pretty close attention in the primary season and don't remember any coverage of this aspect of Obama's relationship to religion. I guess I now have some context for Obama as "presumptive" nominee making his first move a "reaching out" not to Clinton voters, but to rightwing Christians like Doug Kmeic and to the so-called "Joshua generation." Hmm. Maybe we need to be talking about not only Cordelia, but Cassandra as well.

lakelobos said...

Long ago, I lost the common appetite for commenting on every utterance of journalists, pundits or the Boyz. Somerly's comment is, in opinion, a rehashing of things that have been said endless number of times. We kind of find ourselves talking until we are blue in the face with no avail; no one is going to change.

Whether the Lear/Cordelia metaphor applies is of no political consequence. Finding a hat that fits Obama's game is way more important and, most of us, still are uncomfortable with Obama in Napoleonic hat. had we succeeded in doing so early enough, we would be stuck with the new FISA fiasco and many fiascoes to come.

gendergappers said...

Amazing how BO is living up to our predictions. Now, how soon will the hoodwinked others notice he's fooled them [flip-flopped] twice already?

Ah, of course. Love is blind.

Shainzona said...

I found both this and Somersby's article to be, well, a beautiful anaolgy. Sad. But beautiful because of how it makes me look at Hillary. I'm proud of her for her strength and "honesty".

I felt she was the perfect politican for this time. I knew/know OBama is not.

Notice that I do realize that HRC is a politician. Strange that Obama was the one saying he was"different".

I'll keep hoping for a miracle.

HenryFTP said...

Anglachel, your annotation of Somerby's observation really brings it home, leading straight to the conflict at the heart of our current tragedy.

Our Cordelia ran a campaign that gained strength with most Democratic voters even as the mainstream Media vilified, libeled and belittled her and even as the Party Establishment coalesced against her. Her authenticity shone through like a beacon notwithstanding all the efforts to paint her as a hypocrite, megalomaniac or even betrayer of the Party, and it was her rival who ended the contest diminished.

Like the horrified spectators, we readily see the error the Party is making in lusting after power. Betrayal, with the FISA Amendments bill, is already in the air. Catharsis, sadly, seems at best a long way off -- although Goneril (Obama) and Regan (the Party Establishment) may yet fall out with each other, even though they are currently content to have exiled Cordelia.

Uh, cmike, our pal Somerby would clearly claim to be The Fool, with Olbermann and JMM fighting over who gets to be the scheming bastard, Edmund.

herb the verb said...

Two things I would like to add:

1. Somerby is must read every single day.

2. It may be true Lakelobos, that this has all been said time and again. Certainly Somerby and Anglachel know that they have gone over this ground before, but what is the alternative? Just shut up and take it? I think at least for Somerby he knows he may have little influence to change The Village, what he is doing is documenting the atrocities. One reason why his incomparable archives are indeed incomparable.

Falstaff said...

Even better than Cavell's take, I think, was Sigurd Burckhardt's, in "Shakespearean Meanings." He really gets at the notion of performative language, at a very deep level -- i.e., that for Lear, mediacy is impossible. Lear insists on utter presence, utter immediacy, the total absence of any gap between word and meaning. As he says later, in his madness, "They cannot touch me for coining. I am the king himself." By virtue of his position -- or, alternately, of the totalism of his emotional need -- his word IS deed. And Cordelia's insistence on the impossibility of totalism ("I love you according to my bond. No more nor less") is thus terrifying to him.

In other words, Lear's error is not a trivial one, it's a huge, heroic and encompassing one. We don't experience the play as an object-lesson in the blindness of patriarchy. We experience it with terror and pity as the impossibility of the human condition.

And on that, er, off-politics-topic note, fall and cease...

Anna Belle said...

Holy crap! That was EXCELLENT, but I admit, I'm predisposed to response because politics, literature, and writing together is a potent mix for me.

I am sure I will be thinking of this for days, and that I'll have to pull out my copy of King Lear, and I'll have to try to find that essay. Cordelia seems like such the perfect analogy for Clinton supporters dissatisfied with Obama. I know I certainly feel as if I'm the one who hasn't changed.

I'm currently reading Obama's second book, a novel called Animal Husbandry, and a non-fiction book on sex and behavioral evolution, called the Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. I wonder what will come out of my head after all of that and King Lear to boot. I'm giggling just thinking about it. Thanks.

Falstaff said...

I apologize for reposting this, if it went through earlier. I couldn't be sure that it did...

Even better than Cavell's take, I think, was Sigurd Burckhardt's, in "Shakespearean Meanings." He really gets at the notion of performative language, at a very deep level -- i.e., that for Lear, mediacy is impossible. Lear insists on utter presence, utter immediacy, the total absence of any gap between word and meaning. As he says later, in his madness, "They cannot touch me for coining. I am the king himself." By virtue of his position -- or, alternately, of the totalism of his emotional need -- his word IS deed. And Cordelia's insistence on the impossibility of totalism ("I love you according to my bond. No more nor less") is thus terrifying to him.

In other words, Lear's error is not a trivial one, it's a huge, heroic and encompassing one. We don't experience the play as an object-lesson in the blindness of patriarchy. We experience it with terror and pity as the impossibility of the human condition.

And on that, er, off-politics-topic note, fall and cease...

stormny said...

It's not all the same for me - I often learned more at this site.

Part of me has wondered how HRC could ever forgive them all. The Foolish King is the Party in this story. Not the DNC but the "real" party that she feels is worth going back to again.

But where's the sister who told them all to go jump and left home, never to return -- is that a different play?

daily democrat said...

To accept the Lear analogy in the way that Somerby uses it, we must understand Cordelia as a kind of politician. I admit that I am struggling to do that, but at the same time, I'm finding it useful to try.

I've always thought of Cordelia as an anti-politician, a person who doesn't need to bear false witness to love for her father because, unlike her sisters, she feels the real emotion.

While I certainly find it useful to consider Cordelia-as-politician, like lakelobos, I think Somerby's metaphor fails to come to terms with Obama.

Not because I think that metaphors are a waste of time, far from it, but because I think Somerby's use of Lear has created a misleading impression.

As Somerby sets it up, the metaphor doesn't work, not because it is a stretch to see Hillary as Cordelia, or to see ourselves, the Democratic body politic, as a sort of slowly-going-mad Lear. It doesn't work because Obama isn’t Goneril-Regan. His powerful command of language is not of the Goneril-Regan type. They purposefully mislead, I'm not sure that Obama does.

I think Obama is someone who misunderstands the relations between words and performatives, someone who believes that optimizing words to suit listener demands equals performative resolution of the issues.

While Goneril and Regan mislead their father, Obama misleads himself, apparently unintentionally. Of the play's characters, unfortunately, Obama seems most suited to play Lear.