Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Substantial Criticism

Some people like to remind you how little they care what their critics think. "No matter what my critics say..." or "I don't care what the critics tell you..." are common refrains among public figures in sports, entertainment and politics. There seems to be an element of martyrdom and proud rebellion in these pronouncements, the notion that these people are pressing on against long odds. It's enough to make you sigh, really.

Well, I care what my critics think, assuming I have any. Because if I have critics, that must mean I have readers. I understand why people are disinclined to let detractors dictate their actions, but the very claim of not caring what critics think is most generally an admission that you actually do care quite a lot. And it's okay! There's no need to pose as such a brave contrarian.

After months of portraying Barack Obama as a celebrity without substance, it's a bit galling to witness some of the empty catch phrases and slogans conceived by the Republican side, which range from the disgraceful to the somewhat clever. However, even at their best, what they most certainly are not is substantive. For instance, one image displays something quite similar to the colorful "Hope" symbol used by Obama but instead shows a portrait of McCain and the word hope is replaced by "Hero." Worse, there's a similar depiction that dubs McCain "hero" and Obama as, you guessed it, "zero." Classy! Less offensive, but not terribly innovative, are the "NoBama" signs and t-shirts, as well as one that superimposes the letter "y" over "o" in "Hope" to spell "Hype."

On the last point, Republicans aren't wrong. Of course a lot of what sells Obama amounts to hype and buzz. Obama has created a "brand"--another word seeing so much use lately that it might soon need to face mandatory execution--and done a stellar job of it, too. At first, many tried to dismiss Obama as the chief of a personality cult, which might not have been altogether incorrect, though it should be remembered that a "personality cult" does not always translate into something sinister (ask Mohandas Ghandi). Still trailing in the polls and poised for possible, though far from definite, defeat, the GOP has now taken to the same type of vacant sloganeering they accused Obama of practicing. Only theirs isn't half as inspiring.

Who doesn't enjoy a little mockery? It's a practice most of us will probably never cease, even though we know at times it's a childish way to behave. But when it comes to Presidential politics, it should be regarded as a bad omen when one has to resort to it. Sarah Palin called her Vice Presidential opponent "O'Biden" during the debate. It was pretty funny. But it wasn't substance. It had nothing to do with policy or character or ideas. And Palin has now generated a hype similar to Obama's among the Republican base. It is unfair to imply Palin has no substance, but since she lacks Obama's flair for the spoken word and has not demonstrated anything resembling the encyclopaedic body of knowledge shown by the other three candidates, she may encounter difficulty proving herself "substantial."

Though far from a certainty, it is possible that Barack Obama could carry the state of Indiana this election, marking the first time a Democrat has won the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Despite this surprising development, Indiana's Republican governor Mitch Daniels has scarcely been threatened by Democratic challenger Jill Long Thompson, who has run a laughably lackluster campaign and failed to capitalize on the momentum generated by Obama. Ms. Long Thompson, a fixture in Indiana politics for two decades, has offered virtually no reasons why she should supplant Daniels as governor; she has merely supplied reasons why Daniels should not be governor. Not all her criticism is invalid, as Daniels has made some very poor decisions during his tenure, but much of it is vague. As a sharp contrast to her early career, when she seemed like a plucky underdog, Long Thompson now comes across as smug and snobbish. Or maybe that's not it. Perhaps she just doesn't care what her critics think.


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