Art is juxtaposition.
Consider the funny and warm exchanges as George and Laura Bush unveiled their portraits at the White House with the President and Mrs. Obama. Remarks were by turns respectful, warm and on many occasions exceedingly funny–Even some folks less instantly charming than Barack Obama found ways to charm their audience.
Respect and humor. What could be a more stirring tableau of contrast and juxtaposition?
Pan back the lens and other tableaux focus into view: Mitt Romney standing in the wasteland of the Solyndra parking lot in a portrait of abandonment and despair to rival any ash can school painting from the dark days of the Depression. Flash across the continent to the gilded dome of the Massachusetts State House and there David Axelrod hosts a defiant news conference proclaiming that Mr. Romney is all about Obamacare style medical reform and owns no right to the title of “job whisperer” given his performance as governor.
When they call America a classless society I think in the political rough and tumble they are generally right; but in a different sense of the word. Which is why the Al Smith Dinner held in mid –October is the kind of portrait we have to paint of the process…more like the Bush unveilings at the White House.
For the uninitiated the Al Smith Dinner celebrates the audacious and ultimately unsuccessful Presidential Run of Alfred E Smith. The former New York Governor lost to Hoover in the 1928 election. Smith was the first Catholic to really be a contender and was a potent nominee. Since 1945, a year after Smith’s death, the Archdiocese of New York has gathered attendees at the Waldorf from across the country and the globe.
Every four years, in the waning days of October, with just weeks ‘til Election Day, the Presidential candidates meet for the last time in the long process on the same stage, on the same night at the same time with a single aim. To gently chide and tease one another and remind us that humor and respect are what binds us.
The evening is about common ground. And the unexpected is the only certainty. In the nature of a stand -up comedy routine or a roast by both candidates, you never know who is going to dazzle.
Examples: Mike Dukakis stole the show. That’s right the “Mr Dukakis what is your passion?” candidate was screamingly funny. And he was no one- off. Bob Dole had them rolling in the aisles. Even Al Gore brought tears of laughter.
It has been and will continue to be an extraordinary evening. And its continuity says something powerful about the process and about who we are as a nation.
Obama and Bush can naturally swap gentle barbs because they have both spent themselves and their youth in the service of our nation fighting for what they believed was the best course of action for the American people. Behind the humor is a respect well- earned.
For those who believe the only way to win elections is through contact sport, small ball and the low blow, I say try forgetting the elevator speech and start listening for the elevating speech.
We live in snide times. And we are about to enter an obscenely expensive donnybrook, an interim crescendo to the continuous campaign guaranteed by Citizen’s United. That Supreme Court decision allows billionaires to spend limitless amounts on PAC’s, Super PAC’s, Ultra PAC’s and whatever the next size of olive they create to influence the outcome.
Let’s face it; Citizens United was only really good news for the billionaires and the corporations. And Lord knows the billionaires need some more good news.
And if I am saying that, you know something is out of whack.
In fact that’s what we need, a bit of a whack on the head to return to our senses.
With so much talk TV on both sides virtually unwatchable for its petty bickering and senseless focus on triviality rather than real issues, isn’t it time for us to paint our own portrait in voter courage ?
Forget the hyper partisan photo ops and gotchas. We have the ultimate misnomer coming in just a little while. I am referring of course to the Presidential debates which are neither debates nor are they particularly presidential.
Let’s demand the show proceed with respect and humor. Because it won’t only be the portraits of the candidates themselves that will decide the election. Behind these actors is of course the backdrop of the world stage. Events in Europe and China and the Middle East that will have as much impact on the way the tableau sets up as whether being a community organizer or a private equity investor is the better preparation for the most daunting of offices.
When the elder Bush approached his son for the first time in the Oval Office, it is said that neither man was able to speak because the enormity of their bond was too powerful for words. In their silence, eloquence.
Let’s paint the portraits in these closing months as if we were attending the White House unveiling or the Al Smith dinner rather than participating an a dusty bar room brawl.
That’s the only true way to get a portrait of the artist .