The 2008 Election Will Not Take Place
by Quincy Baudrillard
From the beginning, we knew that this election would never happen. After the symbolic election (2000: the electoral college and supreme court choose the president and the people realize for the first time that they never decided in the first place) and the spectacle election (a reenactment of the 2000 election four years later with more psychosis and the same stolen result), here comes the dead election, the freeze-dried election -- which leaves us to grapple with the corpse of the electoral process and the necessity of dealing with this decomposing cadaver, which nobody from any party has managed to revive. Obama, McCain and the Clintons are competing over the corpse of democracy.
Representative democracy has entered into a definitive crisis. It is too late for another symbolic election in 2008, this has already taken place, distilled over years from the tacit consent of taxpayers. There will be no other. It might have been supposed that the too-blatant imperialism of the neocons would have opened up new spaces for democracy by provoking resistance. Nothing of the sort, since repression has not come to an end, on the contrary. In the past the election functioned as reciprocal deterrence between the ruling parties and the ruled people, in the context of an excess of the means of repression. Today the election functions more even more effectively as a self-repression, a total self-repression up to and including the self-dissolution of society itself, the profound self-repression of American democracy and of Western democracy in general, paralyzed by its own strength and incapable of assuming the relations of even the most superficial democratic process.
This is why the 2008 election will not take place. It is neither reassuring nor comforting that it has become bogged in interminable suspense. In this sense, the gravity of the non-event is even greater than the event of an election: it corresponds to the highly toxic period which affects a rotting corpse and which can cause nausea and powerless stupor. Here again, our symbolic defenses are weak: the mastery of the end of democracy escapes us and we live all this in a uniform shameful indifference, just like the candidates.
Non-democracy is characterized by that degenerate form of democracy which includes party propaganda, staged and sterilized debates between screened candidates and the stale narrative of the multimillion dollar campaign trail. The candidate has taken the place of the citizen. The candidate has become the principal actor, the simulacral protagonist, or rather, in his or her inaction, the protagonizer of non-democracy. The citizens bury themselves in the desert leaving only candidates to occupy the stage, including us as information hostages on the world media stage.
The voter is the phantom actor, the extra who occupies the powerless stage of representative democracy. Today, it is the voter at the strategic site (the rally, the TV, the voting both) tomorrow the voter as Christmas present, as exchange value and liquidity. Every candidate has made themselves the capitalist of vote-value; after the market in slaves and proletarians, the vulgar merchant of the voter market. We are all hostages of media intoxication, induced to believe in this election just as were once led to believe in the last two, and confined to the simulacrum of representative democracy as though confined to quarters. We are already all strategic voters in situ; our site is the screen from which we are virtually bombarded day by day, even while serving as exchange value. In this sense, the grotesque vaudeville played by the candidates is a double diversion, at once a diversion of both the idea of democracy and the reality of American imperialism.
The impossibility of proceeding to a democratic society, this absence of strategy, implies the triumph of triumphalism as strategy (in the case of Clinton, there was still a mission, with Bush there is only victory) . George W. Bush’s abjection lies in his having vulgarized everything: religious challenge has become holy war, the voting citizen a consumer citizen, the violent posturing of the both parties a nationalistic scam and the election an impossible comedy. But we have helped him do this. By allowing him to believe that he had won both the 2000 and 2004 elections, we drove him towards the mirage of victory against the world.
We are in neither a logic of despotism nor a logic of democracy but in a logic of representation, which has wound its way inexorably through hundreds of years of history to a denouement in our current events. Peripeteias of an anorexic history and an anorexic democracy in which people can no longer be allowed to rule because the rulers are incapable of conceiving the people as anything but consumers and producers that can only consume and (re)produce themselves. It is the de-intensified state of representative democracy, that of the right to election under the green light of transnational capital and with an abundance of precautions and concessions.
It is the bellicose equivalent of safe sex: make democracy like love with a condom! On the Richter scale, the 2008 election would not even reach two or three. The build-up is unconvincing, as though the fiction of an earthquake were created by manipulating the measuring instruments. It is neither the strong form nor the zero degree of democracy, but the weak or consumptive degree, the asymptotic form which allows a brush with democracy but no encounter, the transparent degree which allows democracy to be seen from the depths of the darkrooms at the Pentagon.
We should have been suspicious about the disappearance, centuries ago, of any credence that the majority of US citizens had in the the legitimacy or consequence of the electoral process. The disappearance, first of the symbolic passage to democratic participation, which already presaged the disappearance of the end of representative democracy, then the distinction between winners and losers (the losers, not only Gore and Kerry but the American people too, readily becoming the hostage of the winners: the Stockholm syndrome), then finally of the electoral mechanisms themselves. In Florida, on the cutting edge of non-democracy, it is illegal to recount a ballot by hand that has already been counted by a machine.
Since it never began, this election was therefore interminable. By dint of dreaming of pure election, of an orbital democracy purged of all local and political peripeteias, we have fallen into soft democracy, into the virtual impossibility of an election which translates into the paltry fantasia where adversaries compete in de-escalation, as though the irruption or the event of election had become obscene and insupportable, no longer sustainable. Everything is therefore transposed into the virtual, and we are confronted with a virtual presidency, a hegemony ultimately much more dangerous than a real presidency.
We are no longer in a logic of the passage from the virtual to actual but in a hyperrealist logic of the deterrence of the real by the virtual. Our virtual democracy has definitively overtaken the actual and we mustn’t be content with this extreme virtuality which deters any passage to action.
In this process, the candidates are once again revealing. Extracted like molecules in an experimental process, then distilled one by one in the primaries, it is their virtual life that is at issue, not their real life. Moreover, they never die: at best they disappear. There will never be a monument to the unknown candidate, everyone is too ashamed of them: the collective shame which attaches to the candidate reflects the absolute degradation of real elections (representative democracy) into virtual democracy (propaganda, rallies, campaigns, touch-screen voting machines,).
We have created a gigantic apparatus of simulation which allows us to pass into a democratic society “in vitro”. We prefer the exile of the virtual, of which television is the universal mirror, to the catastrophe of the real.
Representative democracy has not escaped this virtualization. The 2008 election is like a surgical operation, the aim of which is to present a face-lifted democracy, the cosmetically treated spectre of its death. Even the Congress and Senate have lost the privilege of use-value, the privilege of real democracy. International finance has passed by that way and it spares no one. No more than the citizens, the candidates do not know what to make of their real function, their function of representation. They are as pledged to the decoy of democracy as Homeland Security is to the decoy of terrorism.
P.S. To demonstrate the impossibility of the election just at the moment when it must take place, when the signs of its occurrence are accumulating, is a stupid gamble. But it would have been even more stupid not to seize the opportunity.