EACH CANDIDATE HAS A TALE, AND THE WISE WILL LISTEN
by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- At election time, especially, but in more regular times, too, we could surely benefit from a careful literary eye. This has value not only for our reading, writing and entertainment but in measuring the very authenticity and credibility of our society; otherwise, we can find ourselves in the middle of a real-life script that reads like a poorly written first draft.
Good writers, editors, and careful readers have long recognized that without some special authenticity and credibility in our literature, our writing becomes laughable. Words lose meaning. The flow loses purpose and direction. The story is in serious trouble.
Without a good writer's eye or reader's eye - without being able to critically measure authenticity and credibility - we don't really know in society where we're coming from, where we're at, or where we're going. Does any bad book or less than credible protagonist come to mind?
How about a story that seemingly has no past, as though we'd failed to learn from the lessons of Vietnam - that the light isn't always at the end of the tunnel, that guerilla warfare can sometimes be more than we bargained for, that some of our reasons for expanding the war (i.e., the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) were based on less than credible information. How about, for example, failing to learn from the past the lessons of the Bay of Pigs - that we weren't exactly welcomed with open arms.
How about a story that doesn't make sense in the present or future? How about a meandering plot that keeps changing and where the biggest suspense is whether the story has any credibility?
How about a supposedly sympathetic character who, as president, manages to take the nation from being highly regarded to being a near-pariah worldwide; who gives a small number of the wealthy and multi-millionaires a better tax break than the nation at large; who calls for educational improvements but is skimpy on funding; who has a seemingly non-existent energy policy and promotes special interest developments, without restraint, at the cost of a deteriorating environment.
How about a protagonist who, along with his vice-president, is ducky-ducky with special interests; all too often behind closed doors and seemingly at the expense of the nation at large. Admittedly such a story has a certain tragicomic "Animal Farm" type credibility, but how credible and how sympathetic is the leading protagonist and this story?
Curious that we manage to apply so many of these critical reading talents in our literature yet often fail to do so in our society; not least when we select our leading protagonist.
Especially at election time, I'd argue, we need to apply the critic's literary eye. In literature the "set up," for example, is often so obvious that it works to build suspense. In our everyday world we are often blind to the set-up. "You can fool half the people all of the time," actor W.C. Fields once quipped, "and that's enough to make a good living." To set a positive example by looking at society with a careful eye, the writer doesn't have to be successful or even greatly talented - just "desperately seeking" credibility.
Are writers less gullible? Do writers know something others don't? Probably not. Even the best, of course, can barely capture in words a passage from Mozart or the meaning of a raised eyebrow. And writers as a whole offer no clear consensus and make few claims - especially in postmodern times - to ultimate answers.
It's not that the seious writer has mastered the words but that the authenticity of the words master the serious writer. The trick is that the professional writer invariably "lacks" the tricks of the trade and must start fresh each time - that's the good part!
Talk about building a genuine consensus, most any good writer knows that to get his or her "new" story across he or she can't rely on old credibilities. He or she can't commit deceptions, make deals, promises, threats, demands, tradeoffs or even tell simple lies or give shifting explanations and expect to be believed or even read.
The author, at least, must build with his record a convincing, credible case. Imagine, for a moment, that the past four years under President Bush's administration were an historical novel. Would you have found the protagonist a credible leader if there were shifting explanations for going to war, if promises were made and jobs lost, with the nation itself under his leadership going from rich to poor. So what's the book on Bush's story? Not the odds on his re-election but the measure of his administration. Is it a good story?
My own sense is that President Bush's go-it-alone pre-emptive tone is somewhat arrogant. The diction is careless and inconsistent. The sense of unity and representations of reality are all too often missing. The secrecy and lack of clarity are disturbing. The texture is thin and lacking depth.
The background, that is, the story behind the story, sometimes reminds us of a Potempkin Village, a community of false-fronted homes that disguises a poverty of vision. And the main characters, an inner circle of neoconservatives, are frequently at odds not only with tens of millions of citizens but also too often with our State Department, the FBI, CIA, our key presidentially-appointed investigtors (searching for weapons of mass destruction) or the investigatory panel on the September 11 attacks.
Even in a work of fiction, such a cast of characters would hardly prove sympathetic or easy to identify with. Too bad the Bush administration is not an historical novel. We could have tossed it years ago, found another book with better plotting and more authenticity and credibililty and better characters and more sound relevance for the population as a whole.
This is a protagonist who promised to unify the nation but then immediately, on getting elected, turned his major support to far right neoconservatives and the fundamentalist religious right wing. In otherwords, the dust jacket and introduction promised one book but then when we get into it it's an entirely different story.
Admittedly, Senator Kerry's story is not always credible. Especially at campaign time, he might be better to leave duck and goose hunting to Bush and Cheney - and there were too many "holes" and unanswered questions in both campaigns.
Yet some books are still significantly better than others; and in this campaign, Kerry, as I read the tale, whether he be as stiff as Gore or carry an extra dose of personal ambition (still better than overcooked global ambitions, I think) has a far more personal, meaningful, intelligent and credible story to offer the nation at large.
You choose. But I recommend that you do with a critical, literary eye.
Ron Kenner, a longtime correspondent for the American Reporter, is a former Metro staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. He has co-authored several books.recently edited Reflections in the Ice: Inside the Heart and Mind of an Olympic Champion, winner of the Benjamin Franklin award of the Publishers Marketing Assn. in the category of Autobiography/Memoirs.