Monday, July 6, 2009

On N., "the Republican" (or: I'm getting more conservative as I get older)

This morning, after leaving J.'s, I made my usual rounds to the tobacconist and then the cafe. I read a story by Nabakov, mostly because it was in my bag and I had already done the latest editions of the fag rags.
After finishing the story, "The Vane Sisters," I looked up and saw N., a good-looking gay man with premature but still distinguished silver hair that accentuates the blue of his eyes. He and I had spoken once before, and during the course of conversation, which started out on the level of vague opinions about politics with a group of his friends, it came out that he was a Republican, sporting notches on his belt as press secretary for a high-ranking, now retired, Republican senator with presidential ambitions. After leaving the Hill, he finished his career in Washington at the Department for Homeland Security under the Bush administration, working on immigration issues. This combination should have, for all intents and purposes, rendered him and his political views anathema to me. Somehow, however, I avoided pedantic and ideological proclamations and after a while his friends departed for dinner and we were left alone to continue the conversation.
It turns out that he and I have more in common than the simplistic depiction I offered above would suggest, and it came to pass that my time talking politics and policy was the most satisfying conversation I'd had on such subjects in a long time. While theory inflected our discourse, the heart of the matter was policy, practical measures that could be implemented to better people's lives. I found our assessment of DC politics coincided, even if we came at these conclusions from alternative, though not necessarily opposing, avenues. He was fiercely critical of the vulgar ideology his party indulged to cynical ends, and the cool, level-headedness of his tone allowed me to trust that the Senator he worked for was, despite caricatures proffered by the media, a principled yet pragmatic man. I trusted him, I suppose, because he made a point of highlighting the necessity of keeping his praxis and his principles in harmony. He left the Hill, in part, because this Senator caved to the demands of a small but powerful bloc of ideologues in his party. I respected him for the strength of his convictions, and his not quite aloof, but still clear-headed judgments on the condition of contemporary politics.
I never thought I would find myself in agreement with a man who, again, for all intents and purposes, would be my political enemy. But then, this was our commonality: our shared frustration with the now routine and taken-for-granted nature of political discourse: commonalities are not allowed to emerge because of the demands made by a plethora of cultural forces--the media, hungry for a headline; the parties themselves, hungry for simplistic platforms that translate into campaign contributions; and the general illiteracy of the masses, who are hungry in general, and loathe to chew on, and take the time to digest, more than a easily consumed talking point.
When I saw N. again today I asked him about his take on the recent Palin move, and I was pleased to hear him articulate a reading that coincided with mine to a T. She has shot herself in the foot, but that's a good thing, he said, because it will allow more clear-headed contenders to take the stage. Still, he admitted, he doesn't see much hope for Obama not being re-elected beyond "a miracle". He cited, then, the first Bush, a man I have my own reasons for respecting--the carriage of the first Gulf War, his principled but pragmatic stance towards Israeli settlement development, and his relative indifference towards social questions--as an example of an otherwise "slam dunk" losing. N. lamented the fact that '94 conservatives, elected on the Gingrich "Contract with America," are now the senior players on the Hill, and had no trouble agreeing with me that it is hard to feel bad for them now that they are getting theirs--cf. Steven Colbert on "The Clinton Curse" re. Mark Stanford et al.
I even went so far as to suggest he run for congress, saying "I would even work for your campaign if you did." I meant it, too, and still do. There is something rare and admirable about a person who authentically cares about the issues themselves without becoming mired in the personal politics that gum-up the works: it is a purely instrumental rationality, perhaps, and one I would otherwise be horrified by, but which still takes as its aim the greater good--beyond person ideology, the question must be unraveled, and answered as best as possible. So often, I find, politicians are not engaged in politics as such, but punting, deferment, procrastination. He agrees, and its in this dimension of his passion--to actually _do_ something--that I find myself drawn to him. "Something," of course, being a "thing" well-considered, practical, political.
We agreed about Israel/Palestine, something I never imagined, to be perfectly frank. He was part of an envoy dispatched to the Middle East, where he met Mubarack, Abbas, Perez, among others, and after _listening_ to what these men and their advisors had to say, predicted the election of Hamas in Gaza, recognizing the cause to be Hamas' role as civil servants, not religious fanatics (as some pundits would have it), as the root of the move made. This same Senator was principled enough, he told me, to encourage him and his associates to write an Op-Ed to this extent, even though he knew it would mean incurring the wrath of the Israeli lobby. We agreed further: the Palestinians need full state sovereignty, aided by something on the order of the Marshall plan--a practical policy initiative that would cost less than one year of fighting in Iraq, and would have the long-term effect of neutralizing that issue as a rallying cry for Islamic extremists. The Congress would never pass such a thing, he lamented, even though it would untangle that knot considerably.
When I floated the idea that he run for Congress he cited John B. Anderson as the last Independent who was able to actually be elected in Illinois. Still, if he came to me and said, I'm going to do it, I'm going to run for Congress, I wouldn't hesitate to work for his campaign. Maybe it's the possibility of grounding my theoretical ambitions in the nitty-gritty of Real Politick without having to sacrifice principle along the way, or maybe it's simply that for all my bluster about being a good pomo-homo messianist I care too much about _Now_ to wholly abandon the possibility of radical transformation.
J. is insistent on the primacy of our naturality, of our animal nature, and is unrelenting in his critique of Human prejudices that seem to divorce the "Human" from the "animal". I am sympathetic to this, and after talking to the German about this, I've come to develop a more appreciative understanding of J.'s line of thinking. Maybe, on a fundamental level, I agree with him, especially insofar as the plasticity of this edifice "human nature" is concerned: we change too quickly, our values transform too rapidly to abandon hope for a transvaluation on the order I hope for. This stance begins to sound very much like classical Liberalism a la Mill et al, but I'm coming to think that the difficulty with the politico-theoretical position I've come to adopt is that it presupposes stasis on the one hand, and, conversely, hyper-accelerated declension on the other--as if in staying the same, we speed towards our ruin. J. has got me thinking, especially in the wake of this conversation with my new friend N., that maybe this politico-theoretical position is self-serving, that it enables practical disengagement and ideological haughtiness.
The other night J. and I had a heated debate over a fundamental question: what do people fear more? themselves or others? I said, Oneself, while he said Others. Maybe he is right--maybe my attraction to a certain brand on pomo-homo politics is that it allows a foreclosure of possibilities, of sorts. Maybe what I like about it is the certainty that not much will get better over time. And, maybe, I gravitate towards this posture because it alleviates the threat of disappointment--the disappointment of hopes dashed, of ambitions frustrated--of vulnerability to Others.
J. took me to task for instantly categorizing a certain person in a certain way. It's arrogant, he charged, as though you knew everything about him. He's right, of course: I can read people very well, but it often happens that my readings become concrete, reified, and unassailable--I don't welcome cause for re-evaluating my initial reading, and I become defensive when that is demanded of me (read "defensive" as arrogant, snobbish, small-minded). He's right, of course, and his insight--now that I have the time and distance to reflect on it--strikes me like a gust of fresh, crisp mountain air does the lungs of a subterranean hermit. I fall just that much deeper into a confusion I hope he can help me out of. He is, in the short time I've known him, dismantling many of my ideological edifices. Nor, however, is he willing to supplant mine with his own. He is stripping me bare, perhaps to a condition akin to his. Maybe this is love itself: the shedding of so many veils, over time, until two bodies meet, naked, but unashamed.
Maybe I was ready for this--no, craved this. Maybe my conversations with N. were a prelude, on an intellectual level, to the confrontation I was itching for: a confrontation with my own prejudices, ideologies, "necessary fictions" that I'd forgotten were fictions. Perhaps I am able to listen to J. with the acuity and sensitivity I have thus far because, fundamentally, I wanted to hear the very words he speaks: defiant, no doubt, but also self-consciously unsure, and thus open to the possibility of there being an "otherwise". It's cheap to say this is because he is an artist, and, like all true artists, he suffers the ambiguity of life itself with a sort of sad isolation _and_ a hopeful air of possibility. I think, rather, that he is simply strong on an essential level, perhaps, too, this strength isn't fully known to him. Maybe, by the same logic, I am in a space where I've discovered my own strength and am all too willing to amplify this to hubristic proportions. Maybe, with him, I will learn how to harness this will-to-power, rather than let it run roughshod over me. That is, by injecting back into my strength, my will-to-power, a certain weakness I have struggled to erase--a weakness that will keep me honest, the animal that I am, and thus all the more potent.

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