The current presidential race is a dull, boring game being hailed by the media as an exciting contest. There's no real life there. Very little deep dialogue. It's like a lot of canned music being played too loud.
Though some say a prolonged campaign gives us a chance to get to know the candidates better, in fact there's an ever-more unhealthy feeling that we're being fed the political equivalent of too much prepackaged food day after day. More of a bad thing is not a good thing. Whenever there's even a hint of authentic political conversation -- usually provided, incredibly enough, by Ron Paul! -- all the candidates look like, "Oh no, we're not going there! That's not in the script!" And so they don't. Genuine truth-tellers look silly on that debate stage. In either party, they sort of spoil the show.
The real clowns, of course, are the ones who are calling them clowns.
Not that a real conversation does not exist. The Internet is home to it. The bloggers bring life to the party. And yes, millions of Americans are increasingly aware that our current administration is blight on the history of the United States. But looking at what is emerging in the race for '08 so far, there are very few times when anyone breaks through the barrier of illusion to announce what really needs to be said: that something so incredibly rotten has gotten into the psychic entrails of this country (bravo to Senator Gravel who at the first Democratic debate said the military complex hadn't just taken over our government -- it had taken over our culture!), that unless we wake up and face this immediately, we could actually lose the patient.
The Republicans who are running don't even know what I'm talking about. They're so incredibly clueless it is laughable at best and genuinely horrifying at worst. With the one exception, as I said before, of brave and valiant Ron Paul; he teaches all of us what it looks like to stay with the truth as you see it even if everyone around you laughs.
On the Democratic side, it's almost worse. I think they do know what I'm talking about, and it's like they're afraid to mention it. Hillary knows, but she thinks that once she gets in office she can best handle things from the inside. Obama knows, but he seems to feel it's enough to hint -- to use code, to use the jargon of those who know -- so then we'll all think he knows, and that will be enough to make us give him the presidency. Edwards knows, but he sort of nullifies it all by not going all the way with what he hints at knowing.
So we're left with what we're left with: a marketplace of lies and half-truths. The truth itself might upset us too much.
But are we really so weak, or so clueless? A space shuttle fell down over Crawford, Texas; America was going down, right in that spot. A bridge fell over the Mississippi: our most basic foundations are falling down around us. I don't think the British missed it when in the midst of the Diana-Charles turmoil, Windsor Castle caught on fire. Get it? Life tells the truth, even when we won't.
One of the reasons I loved the movie The Departed was because in every single frame, a hard, dark, ugly truth was being spoken -- without apology or prettification -- and that of itself was beautiful. I met Scorcese at a party in Los Angeles the week before the Oscars, and I told him I loved the movie.
"I usually don't like violent movies," I told him.
"I know, I know," he said. "Women often tell me it was too violent."
"No," I said. "I loved the movie. I just said that so you'll know I loved it in spite of the fact that it's not a genre I usually like. I loved it because at a time in the world when most everything uttered in the public sphere is pure unadulterated bullshit, this movie absolutely insists on telling the real truth in every frame."
"That's it!! That's it!!" he exclaimed. "That's exactly where I was coming from when I made the movie!" He had that excited little-boy energy like he had when he was looking for Sharon Stone and couldn't find her in The Muse.
Not just Scorcese but many American artists and thinkers have taken up the slack in the last few years, expressing brutally honest, even transcendent truths at a time when politicians have sold truth-telling to the highest bidders. If America is headed down, at least history will record that while we were diving, we were making some fantastic films.
The problem is that we can't ignore politics; or at least we do so at our peril. As the French say, "If you don't do politics, politics will do you." I don't take an interest in politics because I think it's the mode by which the world will be healed; I take an interest because I think that if we're not careful, it's the mode by which the world could be destroyed.
Many people say it's a good thing that Al Gore hasn't entered the race for the presidency because "he can do more good where he is." They might think that, but Gore himself knows better. There's no spot on earth that carries the material power for good -- or bad -- that is contained within the power of the U.S. presidency. And Gore knows that. He let us know recently that he had come out of his denial regarding politics -- that he has realized he isn't very good at it. If only he could see that that's the good news -- not the bad. Saying you're no good at politics today, is almost like saying that you're no good at lying.
Why would we want someone who's "good" at politics, when politics itself has become so bad? What we want is a new kind of wine that would have to come in a new kind of bottle. And we don't have time to wait until 2012. Will the person who has been transformed by the fires of initiation and has the strength and moral authority to tell the truth, the whole truth, the inconvenient truth, and nothing but the truth, please stand up now? There is always the chance that you might not win, but if you don't even run, then America will almost certainly lose.
And that, I fear, is the truth.