Friday, September 12, 2008
Perfume is a beautiful lie, an illusion creating impossible flower gardens from synthesized aromachemicals, an impressionistic painting assembled by labcoats, love and passion from a test tube, a mass produced promise of individuality. Politics is the public space in which uncomfortable realities require debating, clashing interests must negotiate a consensus, in which ignoring cold facts will ultimately have devastating consequences. And yet John McCain, retired maverick, has had himself branded by the ruffian Rove and become the latest and worst exponent of the politics of perfume: create illusions, tell lies until the people believe them, deflect attention from genuine issues and manipulate emotions.
Politics has always been a dirty business and mudslinging is as old as elections are. The United States, however, has entered a new era of politics since George W. Bush was awarded the Presidency by the Supreme Court. Denial of scientific facts, systematic lying and violations of the US Constitution have become standard tools of governance in the White House. Senator McCain, of the party which controlled the Capitol from 1994 to 2006, has occupied the White House since 2001 and practically merged with K-Street has now declared he is running against Washington, together with a VP candidate pork-barrel laden and heavily earmarked. And the voters are loving it, since they seem to be confusing an election for the Presidency for another Mr/Miss Congeniality contest. Yes, a considerable part of the American people have become like the crowd of Süskind's novel Perfume. Lusting for the murderer's execution, once he dons a few drops of his magic fragrance the people become hopelessly entranced and the ugly outcast turns into a deified Prince Charming reigning over a Babylonic orgy.
What are the consequences? Wearing perfume is a harmless game of playing with dreams and identities. The fragrance fades only to be replaced with a different scent. A nation whose political perception has become as disconnected from reality as an LSD user's who thinks he can fly without wings, a nation which seems able to ignore the reality of a lost war, the collapse of the national mortage market and major banks and investement houses, the long term threat of climate change, its junkie-like relationship to oil and all the many mortifying challenges that lay ahead of it, such a nation will not be able to maintain its positon of global world leadership. If this ideology once again carries the day on Nov. 4, 2008, historians may once mark this period as the watershed moment when the U.S. chose for good to retire into a private mythology of itself as it began its slow descent to political irrelevancy, ending like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard , an aging diva who believes her perfume will project a past image of youthfulness through its intricate olfactory illusionism.