The mythologization of the presidency has been aided by too many to mention
I’m sitting here amid This Glorious Sunrise, Election Day 2012, chewing on a photo of Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, and Jay-Z. It was snapped backstage yesterday during a rally at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, a state in which each citizen’s vote is worth a hundred of yours and two of music’s most enduring icons are mere opening acts for the biggest superstar of all time: the President of the United States.
The 2012 campaign has been quite the fucking odyssey. More so than ever in history, complex personalities and issues have been reduced to a lulling, narcotic buzz of static and drone, and ambient hum that matches the epistemological wallpaper. And Obama has been cast against that hideously blank backdrop as if he were an action hero against a green screen, with the breathtaking setpieces to be painted in later via CGI.
This mythologization of the presidency has been aided by too many to mention, but I’ll thrust an accusatory chin at one asshole in particular: me. I wrote a novel, published in January, titled "Taft 2012". It’s a speculative satire that imagines William Howard Taft coming back to life today and running for a second term. Along with books like Nancy Gibbs’ and Michael Duffy’s "The Presidents Club" and David Corn’s "Showdown" — which, I’ll admit, don’t suck like mine — "Taft 2012" added to that narcotic static. None of these books focus on the same things or hold the same viewpoints. But taken together, they telegraph a subliminal message: There’s something intrinsically noble and valiant about the office of the POTUS.
And maybe there is. It’s hard for me to tell at this point. I’ve been obsessing over Decision 2012 for over two years now, since I started writing Taft. I researched, created a character based loosely on the man, began shoehorning him into today’s sociopolitical landscape, and then wrote a story about what a wise, cuddly old codger he was. Of course, he wasn’t. As Douglas Adams so wisely said in "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” That goes double for Taft, who somehow managed to become President without being capable of doing so, a neat trick that I twisted into a loveable quality while writing the book. Because, you know, I had to. Sympathetic protagonist and all that.
Therein lies the sick, rotten core of POTUS idolatry. Even while reading "The Presidents Club", I found myself nodding as Richard Nixon’s image is humanized and softened. Not such a bad guy, I thought, before jabbing a fork into my thigh and blasting Gil Scott-Heron to blow the cobwebs away. Pundits today fall over themselves to “reevaluate” shitty ex-presidents, as if trying to be the first music journalist to “rediscover” how great Air Supply really was. Um, no.
So yeah, I’m guilty. Guilty of propagating the notion that, by hook or I’m-not-a-crook, presidents are somehow worthy of our collective fixation. This photo of the POTUS, the Boss, and Jay-hova is driving the point into my brain like an icepick: It’s too cool to be real, and that’s not a good place for our president to be. I should be doubting, fretting, feeling anxious, getting ready to fight. Someone. Something. Anything. Instead, I’m nodding along to the hypnotic beat, eyelids heavy, harmonizing lazily along to the tune that I can only imagine the three men in the photo are singing. It ought to be the greatest song ever. But on my tongue, the lyrics have the lingering tang of cough syrup and bullshit.