David Foster Wallace, with whose loss the senselessness of our time increased measurably, wrote much during the 90s that is relevant to the present political morass.1 Most literally relevant is Up, Simba, on McCain’s 2000 primary run and the appeal of that candidate’s character.2 But in the unlikely context of his review of a Dostoevsky biography, DFW also nails the importance of Obama’s campaign:
Our intelligentsia distrust strong belief, open conviction. Material passion is one thing, but ideological passion disgusts us on some deep level. We believe that ideology is now the province of the rival SIGs and PACs all trying to get their slice of the big green pie . . . and, looking around us, we see that indeed it is so. But [biographer Joseph] Frank’s Dostoevsky would point out (or more like hop up and down and shake his fist and fly at us and shout) that if this is so, it’s at least partly because we have abandoned the field. That we’ve abandoned it to fundamentalists whose pitiless rigidity and eagerness to judge show that they’re clueless about the “Christian Values” they would impose on others. To rightist militias and conspiracy theorists whose paranoia about the government supposes the government to be just way more organized and efficient than it really is. And, in academia and the arts, to the increasingly absurd and dogmatic Political Correctness movement, whose obsession with the mere forms of utterance and discourse show too well how effete and aestheticized our best liberal instincts have become, how removed from what’s really important — motive, feeling, belief.
I don’t think I’m a personality cultist devoted to an empty idea of “change,” because of the change I’ve seen already: Obama already reclaimed belief — ideology — from its abusers and made it more believable. He’s not going to fix everything, in fact his administration is likely to be a disappointment. But to restore conviction from its debased position in American politics is a real accomplishment and maybe the one I’m really voting for.