It’s sad but true, election campaigns often are a carnival of attractions akin to a procession of circus freaks, fire eaters and sword swallowers, with the media focusing on the monstrosity du jour.
Yesterday’s “bearded lady” was Charles Black, an aide to Senator McCain; he dared to suggest that the Republicans’ chances would benefit from a terrorist attack. The most obscene element of this comment was that it’s probably true: the spectacle of smoking ruins, victims covered in blood, families in tears and militants celebrating could crush thoughts of hope and change, and potentially send the voters “running to grandpa”. However, this is not something to be uttered, let alone entertained as anything other than a passing, cynical calculation which a basic sense of disgust should knock aside.
Meanwhile, there was a less-publicised spectacle arising from the Democrat camp: Senator Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to discuss how to lure Hillary’s supporters back into the fold. According to the June 24th UK Daily Telegraph, he uttered the following phrase:
“If women take a moment to realise that on every issue important to women, John McCain is not in their corner, that would help them get over it.”
This statement, while true, apparently caused great offense due its the last three words: “get over it”. Congressman Diane Watson reportedly told him, “Don’t use that terminology.”
But what precisely is so offensive about it? “Get over it” is a call to Hillary’s most ardent supporters to break with previously established patterns of behaviour, some of whom are continuing to resist Obama’s advances in spite of the fact that Hillary has, at least in public, “gotten over it”.
The philosophical works of Slavoj Zizek, and his interpretations of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan can help us understand the subterranean motives at work. Seen from this perspective, Senator Obama is actually asking them to break with their enjoyment, which is likely to be difficult.
As Zizek and Lacan remind us, enjoyment or “jouissance“, is a primary motivator in our behaviours: even the man who forsakes all comfort in the pursuit of a virtuous life is enjoying his relative virtue in comparison to others. Those in the environmentalist movement can recognise the type: the individual who is “more eco than thou”, demonstrating this purity overtly for an invisible audience (Zizek and Lacan would call the “Other”), is taking enjoyment in the act. The religious Right is littered with this type as well: the person who maintains an exclusivist position who denies themselves any public self-indulgence, so he or she can maintain the role of moral spokesman, is in their enjoyment of this status revealed to be a perverted type of hedonist.
Similarly, Hillary’s supporters are in the throes of enjoyment. They feel they were robbed, slighted, and they were the victims of sexism insofar as their favoured candidate was denied the nomination. This gives them a similar “perverted” position of moral superiority as the one held by the Religious Right; this “pleasure”, however, can only be maintained by continuing their outrage against Obama. In effect, Obama is having to deal with the political consequences of a psychological fetish.
Is there a way out of this? Zizek / Lacan have both stated, “the letter always arrives at its destination”. The meaning of this proverb can be deciphered as follows – no matter what, one has to deal with events as they arrive. It could be that injustice arrives at the door: for example, as sometimes happens, there could be a computer error and an outrageous bill or tax demand slips through the letterbox (the other day, a woman in England received an electricity bill for £90 million). It is wrong, but the “letter always arrives at its destination”, the event has happened and it remains there to be dealt with rather than trying to construct elaborate lamentations about its arrival. The person who does not shirk this responsibility fits into the Zizek / Lacanian definition of the Hero.
Hillary herself, has proven to be far more of the Hero than these supporters who refuse to relinquish their enjoyment. The letter arrived at its destination, and rather continue to dine on ashes, she has campaigned for Obama and helped him with her donors; so too, has her husband, though it must be said that it took longer for him to fall into line.
The remainder should, quite frankly, “get over it”. If the need to maintain this enjoyment persists, it could mutate into something far more pernicious: the need to enjoy their moral outrage at the policies of a President McCain. Hedonism rarely has had such a price tag attached.