One of my all time favorite few seconds of cinema, ranking up there with Charles Foster Kane’s deathbed revelation and Bogie’s send off of Ilsa Laszlo, is from Talladega Nights (2006) and best tagged as “Don’t Put that Evil on Me, Ricky Bobby.” By the way, I’m not alone; typing only “don’t put th” into a search window will direct you to the clip. What makes the scene memorable is the ludicrous amount of time between when the “paralyzed” protagonist stabs himself in the leg and then — tick, tick, tick — he finally unleashes his scream.
Right now, I wonder if the country’s political consciousness is hovering in a similar moment of suspended time. Recent events have been no less subtle than a knife in the thigh, yet we too wait to see if and when our political nerve system will be transmitting a scream. Until then, the zeitgeist is quiet, the general public carries on, while the opinion shapers remain detached and willfully ignorant of the probable Great Obama Implosion of 2012.
It could happen at any moment. The president is credibly linked in a new bestseller to use of campaign funds for hush money payoffs… he’s been found to have lied — either then or now — about his place of birth… he needlessly mocks the country by presenting his biographical bona fides with the candor befitting a three card monte hustler. He objectifies and sexualizes his wife’s do-good fitness crusade. And that’s just the lurid stuff. He’s a serial security breacher, squandering access to the blabbing bad guys that has already been prepaid in American blood and treasure… he’s cravenly politicized Afghanistan and Iraq while cutting the military out of the decision process… then there’s the mendacity of the health care legislation, the worst economy since the Depression, and the reckless acceleration towards January 2013 Taxmadgeddon that makes Thelma and Louise look like defensive drivers. A good investigator will always notice the single “dog that didn’t bark.” Here we have a mush of huskies that aren’t howling. Who’s noticing?
The Obama un-masking will be similar to other historic slow-cooking political disruptions. Teapot Dome, Hiss, Watergate, Iran Contra, Whitewater, Flowers/Jones/Lewinsky all took time to percolate. The public needs that time to process and respond to those abstract reports and allegations. A change in public sentiment requires a consensus understanding of the problem strong enough to overwrite the existing cognitive framework of the miscreant person or institution. Significantly, the two traumas that were ultimately the most convulsive — Watergate and Lewinsky — became radioactive not because of the damning fact set but rather because the public couldn’t forgive a President for “lying.” Still, in every case, there was that Ricky Bobby pause.
Until it happens, we won’t know if this current nightmare is going to end with an implosion or a whimper. George Orwell understood and dramatized how the natural state of the human condition is a-historical, and how the context of national events is provided — only as needed — by the powerful to secure their own domination. “The truth” is never sufficient.
Are we now in that excruciating interlude between political action and public reaction? Or will this turn out to be just another ho-hum political sequence, one of those bells that now and then rings, where few care and fewer understand — and no one looks back?
Or, will we soon reach a moment of inflection where the 2008 data points reverse their polarity? Where we once saw youth and energy, will we see inexperience? Will athleticism become fecklessness, and exotic background become problematic if not disqualifying? Will author become liar, as self-confidence becomes reality impairment? Will the “good war” he said he’d fight become the “lost war”?
This moment — so full of questions — can’t go on much longer. For now, all we can do is nervously monitor the silence.
America, you’re not really paralyzed. And those of us who love you… we’re waiting for that scream.