September 10, 2009KR BlogKR

“I’m Now Going to Make My Vice-President Weep” [Pause for Applause]

Obama stands at the doorway. He’s a boxer — a cruiserweight, maybe — about to enter the ring. Then he’s announced. He beams, moves forward — all smiles and shoulder taps. He gives Hillary a kiss on the cheek and they share a big laugh. Did one of them make a real joke? Or is it all nervous energy? He steps up to the podium, waves to Michelle, and the thing begins.

A few observations:

I sort of love Obama, but I wholly hate applause lines. “We have pulled this economy back from the brink,” the president boasts, to no obvious point. Then a cascade of clapping. Then he tacks to the subject of the evening.

Hearing about the efforts of John Dingell the Elder and John Dingell the Younger, I imagine for a moment that health care reform rests in the hands of Flemish painters.

Have we ever had a First Lady whose default expression is both sultry and a little pissed off?

Nancy Pelosi crushes Joe Biden in the standing-ovation contest.

When Congressman Joe Wilson (R South Carolina) shouts, “You lie!,” how many people are reminded of the “Judas!” cry directed at Bob Dylan in 1966 at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall? Dylan heckled his heckler, sneering, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” (Though I always half-mishear the put-down as “You’re a lawyer.”) Obama — a lawyer himself — just pauses and says, “It’s not true.”

If you’re Dr. Charles Boustany Jr. (R Louisiana), aren’t you a bit miffed at Brian Williams? On the NBC broadcast, Williams goes out of his way to portray Boustany as a low-stakes player from whom little should be expected. And then, sure enough, Boustany lives down to his billing. Watching him give the Republican response, I feel as if I’m stuck in the worst kind of poetry reading. It’s predictable, deadening — the tone never changes, nor does the pace. In ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound describes a similar kind of performance:

The writer of bad verse is a bore because he does not perceive time and time relations, and cannot therefore delimit them in an interesting manner, by means of longer and shorter, heavier and lighter syllables, and the varying qualities of sound inseparable from the words of his speech.

Boustany is a bore. When he closes his speech with the less-than-thrilling invitation to “read more about all of these reforms at healthcare.gop.gov.,” I wonder whether I’ve fallen asleep and then awoken in the middle of a 3 a.m. infomercial. Either way, I know I’m being sold a bill of goods.

(But maybe Boustany’s star is rising. When I Google him to check the spelling of his name, I find he’s the fourth suggestion for “Charles B” — after Barkley, Bronson, and Bukowski.)

***

On a plane a few weeks ago, I write the following something-or-other:

THE PUBLIC ILL

Another day: see how the news
skews.
On every other channel:
Death Panel.
“Spare us
your facts,” they crow and tweet.
They’re difficult to beat
because they’re impossible to embarrass.

***

Jim Cummins’ most recent post on The Best American Poetry blog begins, “I wanted to make some observations about why our criticism is so bitter and vindictive, instead of respectfully serious.” Cummins is someone I admire and listen to. And I take no pleasure in appearing bitter or vindictive toward other poets. I’ll direct my late-night ire toward “those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this [health] plan than to improve it,” and toward former aides to Strom Thurmond. (The categories overlap.)

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