by Quincy Baudrillard
We may well ask. On the available evidence (absence of substance and profusion of commentary), we would suppose it to be an immense promotional exercise, like the advertisement of a brand name whose product never becomes known. Pure promotion which enjoys an immense success because it belongs to pure speculation.
The election is pure and speculative, to the extent that we do not see the real event that it could be or that it would signify. It reminds us of that recent suspense advertisement: today I take off the top, tomorrow I take off the bottom; today we have an election, tomorrow we have a democracy. In the background, a third advertisement in which an avaricious and lubricious politician says: your vote appeals to me.
In this manner, the electoral process makes its way by promotion and speculation, including the use of candidates transformed into marketing ploys, and in the absence of any clarification of the most pressing issues. No normal enterprise would survive such uncertainty, except under the tutelage of practiced speculative risk managers, whose criminal syndicates run the show. Representative democracy itself has taken this speculative turn: it is highly profitable but uncertain. It can collapse from one day to the next.
Nevertheless, from this point onwards the promotional advantages are fabulous. Whether or not they win, the front-running candidates are assured an unforgettable and charismatic label. Legitimate or not, the American electoral apparatus will have acquired an unequaled technological label. (Near 80% of voters cast ballots on touch-screen computers.) And in any case, the sumptuary expenditure in material is already equivalent to that of a real election, even if it has not taken place.
We have still not left the virtual election, the sophisticated although often laughable build-up against the backdrop of a national indeterminacy of will to politically participate. Hence the absence of substance -- which is neither accidental nor due to censorship but to the impossibility of illustrating the indeterminacy of this election.
Promotional, speculative, virtual: Non-elections are a vulgar test of the status and the uncertainty of politics, just as a stock market crash (another speculative invention) is a crucial test of the economy and of the uncertainty of economic gains. Thus “real time” information loses itself in a completely unreal space, finally furnishing the images of pure, useless, instantaneous representation, where its primordial function irrupts, namely that of filling a vacuum, blocking up the ballot box hole through which escapes the substance of events.
Nor is this election the pursuit of democracy by other means. On the contrary, it is the pure product of uncertainty with regard to the political aims of society. This is why elections have become a relentless function, an emptiness which fills our screens to the exclusion of any democratic discourse or imagination. This is why it competes victoriously with the other farces on our screens (farces of a similar nature; “Survivor”, “American Idol”), both are bought and sold in the same virtual credit of the image.
The media promote the election, the election promotes the media, and advertising competes with democracy. Promotion is the most thick-skinned parasite in our culture. It would undoubtedly survive a nuclear conflict. It is our Last Judgement. It is also like a biological function: it devours our substance, but it also allows us to metabolize what we absorb, like a parasitic plant or intestinal flora, it allows us to turn society into a consumable substance. So, democracy or consumption?
The election, along with the fake and presumptive candidates, campaign managers, experts and television presenters we see speculating about it all through the day, watches itself in a mirror: Am I pretty enough, am I operational enough, am I spectacular enough, am I sophisticated enough to make an entry onto the historical stage? Of course, this anxious interrogation increases the uncertainty with respect to its possible irruption. And this uncertainty invades our screens like an oil slick, in the image of that oil-blinded sea bird stranded on a beach, which will remain the symbol-image of what we all are in front of our screens.
Unlike earlier elections, in which there were political aims of reform or policy implementation, what is at stake in this one is the electoral process itself: its status, its meaning, its future. It is beholden not to have an objective but only to prove its existence. In effect, it has lost much of its credibility.
Nevertheless, the spectacular drive to vote remains intact. In the absence of the will to power, and the will to knowledge, there remains to day the widespread will to participate, and with it the obstinate desire to preserve its spectre or fiction. Can representative democracy still be saved?
Certainly, candidates throughout history did as much as they could to save the fiction of a murderous, imperial, and sacrificial democracy. But they were savages and the elections from the past proved nothing with regard to the status and the possiblity of modern elections. The 2008 election has not taken place (nor, perhaps did the elections in 2000 or 2004), yet we are already beyond it, as though in the utopian space of a post-election, and it is in the suspense created by this non-event that the present confrontations unfold and the question is posed. Can an election still take place?
This one is perhaps only a test, a desperate attempt to see whether elections are still possible.
Empty elections: it brings to mind those games in World Cup football which often have to be decided by penalties (sorry spectacle), because of the impossibility of forcing a decision. As though the players punished themselves by means of “penalties” for not having been able to play and take the match in full battle. We might as well have begun with the penalties and dispensed with the game and its sterile standoff. So with the election: it could have begun at the end and spared us the forced spectacle of this unreal democracy where nothing is democratic and which, whatever the outcome, will leave behind the smell of undigested programming, and the entire nation irritated as though after an unsuccessful copulation.
It is an election of excesses (of means, material, etc.) an election of shedding or buying stocks (votes), of currency speculations (campaign money) and liquidation sales (values and promises), along with a display of the future ranges of democratic manifest destiny. An election between excessive, superabundant and over-equipped candidates committed both to corruption and the necessity of getting rid of it.
Just as the waste of money nourishes the hell of politics, so technological wastes nourish the hell of the electoral process. Wastes which incarnate the secret fascism of this society, covering us with its non-degradable techno-defecation. The renowned constitution of the founding fathers has become a suffocating burden, and representative democracy functions well within its possibilities in this role of purgative and expenditure.
If the critical politician has disappeared, it seems by contrast that the collective phobia of the real has been distilled throughout the bullish cerebral network of our institutions. In this sense, the entire society is caught up in a process of politicization.
See them become confused in explanations, outdo themselves in justifications and lose themselves in technical details (the election shifts slowly in technological mannerism). It is the deontology of a pure electronic democracy with no hitches: These are aesthetes speaking, postponing campaign promises into the interminable and decisions to the undecidable. Their managers, their parties, their donors and their volatile constituencies render the passage to representation futile and impossible, just as the use of a ballot box renders futile and impossible the passage to the act of participating, because it removes in advance any dramatic uncertainty.
The campaign coordinators also exhaust their artificial intelligence in covering their every single track, polishing their representative script so much that they sometimes make errors of manipulation and lose the plot.
Should we applaud the fact that all these techniques of electoral processing culminate in the elision of immediate tyranny? Only carefully, for the infinite delay of the election itself is itself heavy with deadly consequences in all domains.
By virtue of having been anticipated in all its details and exhausted by all the pundits, this election ends up resembling the hero of Italien des Roses (Richard Bohringer in the film by Charles Matton), who hesitates to dive from the top of a building for an hour and a half, before a crowd at first hanging on his movements, then disappointed and overcome by the suspense, exactly as we are today by the media bonanza and the illusion of democracy. It is as though it had taken place ten times already: why would we want it to take place again? It is the same in Italien des Roses: we know that his imaginary credit is exhausted and that he will not jump, and in the end nobody gives a damn whether he jumps of not because the real event is already left behind.
This is the problem with anticipation. It there still a chance that something which has been meticulously programmed will occur? Does a truth that has been meticulously demonstrated still have a chance of being true? When too many things point in the same direction, when the objective reasons pile up, the effect is reversed. Thus everything which points to democracy is ambiguous: the media build-up, the debates, the concentration of constituencies, even the green light from both the ruling classes and the grassroots. Far from reinforcing the probability of a genuine election, these function as a preventative accumulation, as a substitution for and diversion from the transition to democracy.
Virtual for years now, democracy will shortly enter its terminal phase, according to the rule which says that what never began ends without having taken place. The profound indeterminacy of this democracy stems from the fact of its being terminated in advance and interminable. The virtual succeeds itself -- accidents aside, which could only occur with the irruption of the other into the field. But no one wants to hear talk of the other. Ultimately, the pride of this democracy is grounded in the disappearance and rejection of alterity, of any other unreconcilable culture or society. Democracy has become a celibate machine.
Thanks to this election, the extraordinary confusion of the candidates is in the process of infecting the people. In return, the candidates try desperately to unify and stabilize the people in order to exercise better control. Meanwhile, between the candidates it is an historic arm-wrestle: who will destabilize the other before being destabilized themselves? When confronted by the virulent and ungraspable instability of direct participatory democracy, the political alchemists (who claim to forge democracy from imperialism) are in the process of demonstrating that the American people can no longer lay claim to any democracy but that dictated by the established representatives.
Faced with the liberal logic of reform, the blunt imperial logic of Bush responds with overcompensation. Although far from having proved himself to the West, he attacks the East. He operates beyond the reach of his own forces, there where only God can help him. He undertakes an act of preemptive provocation and it is left to God to do the rest.
By contrast, through a kind of egocentric generosity or stupidity, the Americans can only imagine and vote for a candidate in their own image, or in an image they would imagine is their own. Voters are at once missionaries and converts of their own way of political life, which they triumphantly project onto the world. They cannot imagine the Other, nor therefore personally vote for it. What they vote for is the exclusion of the other, to contain it, or failing that to annihilate it if it proves irreducible (in different ways from Ralph Nader to Paul Wellstone).
For their part, the ruling elite have no tenderness. They see real democracy in all its bare power without illusions or scruples. Democracy is unconvertible, its alterity is without appeal; it must not be changed, it must be beaten down and subjugated. In doing so, however, while they may not understand it, they at least recognize it. The American people, for their part, understand nothing and do not even recognize this fact.
This is not an important match which is being played out in the US between military and economic imperialism and the challenge from “civil society.” It is the US elite in conflict with itself, by means of interposed representatives. Bush remains the fake enemy. At first the champion of values against corruption, then the champion of corrupted values. In both cases he is a traitor to his own cause since, even more than his incidental constituency, it is the helm of the war machine that he holds hostage, captures for his profit and mobilizes in his suicidal enthusiasm. It is moreover near the end, at the very moment when he calls for Peace in Palestine and Israel (thereby skillfully stroking citizenry with the same demagogy that he strokes the children in front of the TV) that he launches his call to a new holy war against Iran.
It is a mistake to think that Obama would contribute to the unification of the American people and to honor him in advance for that. In fact, he does it only to hoodwink them, to make them work for him, to deceive them once again and render them powerless. People like him are necessary from time to time in order to channel irruptive forces. They serve as a poultice or an artificial purgative. It is a form of deterrence, certainly a Western strategy, one in which Bush, in his pride and his stupidity, is a perfect collaborator. He who loves lying so much is himself no more than a lie and his elimination can only further mystify this democracy by putting an end to only another lie.
The exhibition of the presidential candidates on foreign TV. Once more the politics of muckraking, the suspense and speculation of voting, the humiliation of the people by the spectacle of those “citizens” symbolically avowing to American democracy. Along with the spectacle of these candidates and citizens, the screens offer us the spectacle of our own powerlessness. In a case such as this, propaganda fulfills its role which is to convince us of our own abjection by the obscenity of what is seen and read. The forced perversion of our attention amounts to the avowal of our own dishonor, and makes repentant voters of us as well.
That the Americans have allowed themselves to participate, without departing from any of the neocon program including the war in Iraq, indicates a weakness in their symbolic detonator. Voting remains the worst kind of participation, arrogance (everyone’s) the worst kind of conduct, representative the worst kind of democracy and the adulation of party candidates the worst kind of dishonor. The fact that this virtual election, worse than any real election, should finally have been withstood without flinching testifies to the depth and the unconscious character of Western fascism.
Two intense images, two or perhaps three scenes which all concern disfigured forms or costumes which correspond to the masquerade of this election: the talk show pundits in their bustling studios, the angry and/or exultant constituencies thronging on the screens of the whole world, and perhaps that sea-bird covered in oil and pointing its eyes towards the sky. It is a masquerade of information: branded faces delivered over to the prostitution of the image, the image of an unintelligible competition. No images of actual political discussion, but images of masks, of blind or defeated faces, images of falsification. It is not an election taking place here but the disfiguration of a society.
There is a profound scorn in the kind of “clean” election which renders the loser powerless without shaming them, which makes it a point of honor to disarm and neutralize but not to kill. In a sense, it is worse than the other kind of election in that it spares a micron of the democratic idea. It is like humiliation: by taking less than life it is worse than taking life.
Just as the screen of the psyche transforms every illness into a symptom, so democracy, when it has been turned into information, ceases to be a realistic democracy and becomes a virtual democracy. And just as everything psychic becomes the object of interminable speculation, so everything which is turned into investigation becomes the object of endless speculation, the site of total uncertainty. We are left with the symptomatic programming on our screens of the effects of the election, or the effects of discourse about the election, or completely speculative evaluations which are no more than any other evaluations of opinion provided by polls. In this manner, each candidate swings on percentages of approval from week to week and day to day. The figures fluctuate exactly like the fortunes of the stock market. Whom to believe? There is nothing to believe. We must learn to read symptoms as symptoms, and the 2008 election as the hysterical symptom of a representative democracy which has nothing to do with its critical mass. Moreover, it does not seem to have to reach its critical mass but remains in its inertial phase, while the implosion of the apparatus of information along with the accompanying tendency of the rate of information to fall seems to reinforce the implosion of society itself, with its accompanying tendency of the rate of dissent to rise.
Campaign propaganda is like an unintelligent missiles which never finds its target and therefore crashes anywhere or gets lost in space on unpredictable orbits in which it eternally revolves as junk.
A campaign is only ever an erratic missile with a fuzzy destination which seeks its target but is drawn to every decoy -- it is itself a decoy, in fact it scatters all over the environs and the result is mostly nil. The utopia of propaganda is the same as that of the missile: it knows not where it lands and perhaps its mission is not to land but, like the missile, essentially to have been launched. In fact, the only impressive images of candidates, campaigns or constituencies are those before the election. The campaign launch is what counts, the impact or the end results are so uncertain that one frequently hears no more about them. The entire effect is in the programming, the success is that of the virtual model. Consider the Greens and Independents: their strategic effectiveness is nil and their only (psychological) effect lies in them having existed.
The fact that the production of candidates has become an important branch of the election industry, just as the production of placebos has become an important branch of the medical industry and forgery a flourishing branch of the art industry -- all of this is a sign that we have entered a deceptive world in which an entire culture labors assiduously at its counterfeit. This also means that it no longer harbors any illusions about itself.
It all began with the leitmotif of precision, of surgical, mathematical and punctual efficacy. The electronic election is another way of not recognizing a democracy as such, just as the lobotomy is a way of not recognizing madness as such. And then all that technical virtuosity finishes up in the most ridiculous uncertainty. The isolation of the candidate by all kinds of electronic interference creates a sort of barricade behind which he becomes invisible. As we saw with Bush, his capacity for resistance becomes indeterminable. In annihilating him at a distance and as it were by transparency, it becomes impossible to discern whether or not he is really gone.
The idea of a clean election, like that of a clean bomb or an intelligent missile, this whole election fanfare conceived as a technological extrapolation of the country is a sure sign of madness. It is like those characters in Hieronymus Bosch with a glass bell or a soap bubble around their head as a sign of mental debility. An election enclosed in a glass coffin, like Snow White, purged of any carnal contamination or citizen’s desire. A clean democracy that ends up in an oil slick.
Private corporations supplied the voting machines and the media machine, the Republicans the church, the Democrats the liberals, the citizens the money, the multinational financial elite the terms and conditions, while the campaign managers and lobbyists supplied decoy equivalents of everything -- votes, rallies, debates, etc.
Has the swing state swung? The question becomes burning, it is our honor which is at stake. That would constitute a proof of our involvement. Whatever the situation, it will be necessary here too to set up decoys, situated losses and well crafted victims and scapegoats.
An election of high technological concentration but poor definition. Perhaps it has gone beyond its critical mass by too strong a concentration?
It is a fine illustration of the competition schema in which emitter and receiver on opposite sides of the screen never connect with each other. Instead of issues, it is sound bites and superficial insults which fly from one side to the other, but any dual or personal relation is altogether absent. Thus an election may be read in terms of coding, decoding and feedback (in this case, very bad: we cannot even really know what we have elected). This explains the tolerance of the imperialists for this vaguely democratic process: they are only hit by abstract projectiles. The very least live demand for legitimate democratic participation in political decisions provokes immediate retaliation. “Don’t taze me, bro!”1
The innocence of some Americans in admitting their mistake (recognizing that the 2000 and 2004 elections were fraudulent) and all that counter-propaganda would be moving if it did not testify to the same strategic idiocy as the triumphal declarations at the outset, and did not further take us for complicit witness of this suspicious sincerity of the kind which says: you see, we tell you everything. We can always give credit to the Americans for knowing how to exploit their failures by a means of a sort of optical illusion candour.
An American bedtime story: the American citizenry awoke (or were awakened) from their glass coffin. As the coffin fell and was shattered, it spat out the apple and revived, as fresh as a rose, only to find at once the Prince Charming: the 2008 presidential election, fresh from the arms of the neocons. No doubt together they will give birth to a Newer World Order, or else end up like two ghosts locked in a vampiric embrace.
Seeing how the mass media use their cameras on the candidates, the handshaking, the (fake) rallies, on their own reportage (fair and balanced), on the eager analyses of experts and constituents, one cannot help thinking that in America we still have a hypocritical vision of television and information, to the extent that, despite all the evidence, we hope for their proper use. The candidates, for their part, know what the media and information are: they make shameless, unconditional, perfectly cynical and therefore perfectly instrumental use of them. We believe that they immorally pervert images. Not so. They alone are conscious of the profound immorality of images, just as puppet governments all over the world knowingly reenact the election spectacle of non-democracy. The secret of the postcolonial puppet democracy is to parody the model and render it invincible by exaggeration. We alone retain the illusion of information and of a right to information. The candidates are not so naive.
Never any acting out, or passage to action, but simply acting: roll cameras! But there is too much film, or none at all, or it was desensitized by remaining too long on the campaign trail. In short, there is quite simply nothing to see. Later, there will be something to see for the viewers of archival cassettes and generations of video-zombies who will never cease reconstituting the event, never having had the intuition of the non-event of this election.
The archive also belongs to virtual time; it is the complement of the non-event “in real time”, of that instantaneity of the scam and its diffusion. Moreover, rather than the “revolution” of which the Ron Paul constituency speaks, we should speak of an involution in real time; of an involution of the event in the instantaneity of everything at once, and of its vanishing in information itself. If we take note of the speed of light and the temporal short-circuit of pure elections, we see that this involution precipitates us precisely into the virtuality of the election and not into its reality, it precipitates us into the absence of democracy.
Utopia of real time which renders the event simultaneous at all points on the globe. In fact, what we live in real time is not the event, but the spectacle of the degradation of the event and its spectral evocation in the commentary, gloss and verbose facades of talking heads which only underlie the impossibility of democracy and the correlative unreality of the election. It is the same aporia as that of cinema verite which seeks to short-circuit the unreality of the image in order to present us the truth of the object. In this manner, the TV media seeks to be a stethoscope attached to the hypothetical heart of representative democracy, and to present us with its hypothetical pulse. But this only provides a confused ultrasound, undecidable symptoms, and an assortment of vague and contradictory diagnoses. All that we can hope for is to see the candidates lose or win live (metaphorically of course), in other words that some event or other should overwhelm the information instead of the information inventing the event and commenting artificially upon it. The only real information revolution would be this one, but it is not likely to occur in the near future: it would presuppose a reversal of the idea we have of information. In the meantime, we will continue with the involution and the encrustation of the event by and in information, and the closer we approach the live and real time, the further we will go in this direction.
The same illusion of progress occurred with the appearance of sound and then color on screen: at each stage of this progress we moved further away from the imaginary intensity of the image. The closer we supposedly approach the real or the truth, the further we draw away from them both. The closer we approach the real time of the non-event, the more we fall into the illusion of the virtual. God save us from the illusion of participation.
At a certain speed, the speed of light, you lose even your shadow. At a certain speed, the speed of information, things lose their sense. There is a great risk of announcing (or denouncing) the end of American democracy, when it is precisely at this point that the non-event becomes a black hole from which light no longer escapes. Democracy implodes in real time, history implodes in real time, all communication and signification implode in real time. The end of democracy itself, understood as the arrival of dictatorship, is unlikely. It falls prey to prophetic illusion. America is not sufficiently coherent to lead to the end of democracy.
Nevertheless, in confronting our opinions about the election with the diametrically opposed opinions of die-hard voters, them betting on revolutionary political escalation “inside the system”, and us on deterrence and the indefinite virtuality of representative democracy, we concluded that this decidedly strange election went in both directions at once. The election’s programmed escalation is relentless and its non-occurence is no less inevitable: the election proceeds at once towards the two extremes of intensification and deterrence. The election and the non-election take place at the same time, with the same period of deployment and the same possibilities of de-escalation or maximal increase.
What is most extraordinary is that the two hypotheses, the end of democracy and pure elections along with the triumph of the virtual over the real, are realized at the same time, in the same space-time, each in inplacable pursuit of the other. It is a sign that the space of the non-event has become a hyperspace with multiple refractivity, and that the space of democracy has become definitively non-Euclidean. And that there will undoubtedly be no resolution of this situation: we will remain in the undecidability of representative democracy created by the unleashing of two opposed principles.
Imperialism and pure elections go boating.
There is a degree of popular good will in the micro-anxiety distilled by the airwaves. The public ultimately consents to be interested, and to be gently excited by the bacteriological scenarios, on the basis of a kind of affective patriotism, even while it preserves a fairly profound indifference to the election. But it censors this indifference, on the grounds that we must not cut ourselves off from the world-scene, that we must be mobilized at least as extras in order to rescue democracy: we have no other passion with which to replace it. This is political participation under normal circumstances: largely second hand, taking place against a backdrop of spontaneous indifference. It is the same with God: even when we no longer believe, we continue to believe that we believe. In this hysterical replacement function, we identify immediately with the candidates. By contrast, the few who advance the hypothesis of this profound indifference will be received as traitors.
By the force of the media, this election liberates an exponential mass of stupidity, not the particular stupidity of representative democracy in America, which is considerable, but the professional and functional stupidity of those who pontificate in perpetual commentary on the event: the Bill O’Reillys and Wolf Blitzers for hire, the would-be raiders of the lost image and all the master singers of strategy and information who make us experience the emptiness of television as never before. This election, it must be said, constitutes a merciless test. But no one will hold this expert or manager or that intellectual for hire to account for the idiocies or absurdities proffered the day before, since these will be erased by those of the following day. In this manner, everyone is amnestied by the ultra-rapid succession of phony events and phony discourses. The laundering of stupidity by the escalation of stupidity which reconstitutes a sort of total innocence, namely the innocence of washed and bleached brains, stupefied not by the issues but by the sinister insignificance of the images.
Polls in the desert. We who are about to vote salute you! Ridiculous. The benefit of this election will have been to recycle our political suicide on television. One shudders at the thought that in another time, the candidates were politically operational.
Imbroglio: the Green and Independent parties rally and run, thus indirectly for the greater of evils, who want war, and against the Democrats, who want it too. Their participation from the outset gives all the signs of refusing to take part, and of doing so reluctantly.
Deserted shops, suspended vacations, the slowdown of activity, the city turned over to the absent masses: election day. It may well be that behind the alibi of democracy, this election should be the dreamed-for opportunity to soft-pedal, the opportunity to slow down, to ease off the pace of politics. The crazed parties calm down, the election erases the guerilla warfare of the campaign trail. Catharsis? No: renovation. Or perhaps, with everyone glued at home, TV plays out fully its role of social control by collective stupefaction: turning uselessly upon itself like a dervish, it affixes populations all the better for deceiving them, as with a bad detective novel which we cannot believe could be so pointless.
American democracy is being rebuilt before it ever existed. After sales service. Such anticipation reduces even further the credibility of representative democracy, which did not need this election to discourage those who wanted to believe in it.
The overestimation of the candidates is part of the same megalomaniac light show as the publicized deployment of “Shock and Awe” and the orgy of bombardment. The candidates no longer even have any issues, any targets. The pundits no longer even have enough decoys to cater to the incessant campaign promises. The same propaganda must be espoused indefinite times. Mockery. The voters unleash for hours and hours across the nation. Long since there was nothing left to vote for. Absurdity.
Bush is a mercenary, the candidates are missionaries. But once the mercenary is beaten, the missionaries become the de facto mercenaries of the entire world. But the price for becoming a perfect mercenary is to be stripped of all political intelligence and all will. None of the candidates can escape it: if they want to be the patriarch of the USA and the Newer World Order, they must lose all political authority in favor of their operational capacity alone. They will become pure executants and everyone else pure extras in the consensual and policed architecture of touch-screen politics.
Whoever is the president and cabinet to be deposed, any punitive force sure of itself is even more frightening. Having assumed the imperial style, the Americans will export it everywhere and, just as the Romans did, lock themselves into the spiral of unconditional repression.
For the Americans, democracy does not exist as such. Nothing personal. Your ideals of governance, your morals, are of no interest to me. I will vote for you when I am ready. Bush, for his part, bargains the remainder of his term in order to fall back, attempting to force the hand (over fist) by more posturing and propaganda, like a hustler trying to sell his goods. The Americans understand nothing in this whole psychodrama of the elections, they are had every time until, with the wounded pride of a Westerner, they stiffen and vote. They understand nothing of this floating duel, this passage of arms in which, for a brief moment, the honor and dishonor of each is in play. They know only themselves and they are proud of themselves. If a candidate wants a constituency, they will virtuously employ their vote. They will oppose any other discourse with character assassination and personality cults. For them, the time of democracy does not exist.
But the candidates, even if they know they must concede their agency, cannot do so without another form of procedure. The candidate must be recognized as a representative: this is the whole aim of the election. For the Americans, democracy is cheap, whereas for others it is a matter of honor, personal recognition, linguistic strategy and respect for the other. The Americans take no account of these primitive subtleties.
By contrast, they are winners from an efficiency point of view. No time lost in discussion, no psychological risk in any duel with the other: it is a way of proving that time does not exist, that the other does not exist, and that all that matters is the model and the mastery of the world (the Washington consensus).
From an imperial point of view, to allow this election to endure in the way it has is a clumsy solution lacking in glory and full of perverse effects (Bush’s aura among the masses). Nevertheless, in doing this, they impose a suspense, a temporal vacuum in which they present to themselves and to the entire world the spectacle of their virtual power. They have allowed the elections to endure as long as they take, not to win but to persuade the whole world of the infallibility of their machine.
The victory of the model is more important than the victory on the ground. Electoral success consecrates the triumph of the campaign, but the programming success consecrates the defeat of democracy. Electoral processing, vote counting, the transparency of the model in the unfolding of the election, the strategy of relentless execution of a program, the electrocution of all reaction and any live initiative, including their own. The elections are more important from the point of view of general deterrence (of friends and foes alike) than the final result on the ground. Clean elections, white elections, programmed elections: more lethal than the elections that reflect actual political life.
We are a long way off from despotism, totalitarianism and democratic apocalypse, the total collapse which functions as the archaic imaginary of media hysteria. On the contrary, this kind of preventative, deterrent and punitive democracy is a warning to everyone not to take extreme measures and inflict upon others what they inflict on themselves (the missionary complex): the rule of the game that says everyone must remain within the limits of their powerlessness and not make radical political change by any means whatsoever. Power must remain virtual and exemplary, in other words, virtuous. Just as wealth is no longer measured by the ostentation of wealth but by the secret circulation of speculative capital, so elections are not measured by their democratic content but by their speculative unfolding in an abstract, electronic and informational space, the same space in which capital moves.
While this conjuncture does not exclude all accidents (disorders in the virtual), it is nevertheless true that the probability of the irruption of a dynamic political process based on the power of representatives which we call an election, is increasingly low.
Bush the hysteric. Interminable shit kicker. The hysteric cannot be crushed: he is reborn from his symptoms as though from his ashes. Confronted by a hysteric, the liberal (the loyal opposition) becomes paranoid and deploys a massive apparatus of protection and mistrust. The candidates suspect the hysteric of bad faith, of ruse and dissimulation. They want to constrain Bush to truth and transparency. But the hysteric is irreducible. His means are decoys and the overturning of alliances. Confronted with this lubricity, this duplicity, the paranoid can only become more rigid, more obsessional (Hillary exemplified this well). The most violent reproach addressed to Bush by the American people is that of being a liar, a traitor, a bad player, a trickster. BUllSHit! Bush, like a good hysteric, has never given birth to his own presidency: for him it is only a phantom pregnancy. By contrast, he has until now succeeded in preventing Gore and Kerry from giving birth to theirs. But the hysteric is not suicidal, this is the advantageous other side of Bush. He is neither mad nor suicidal. Perhaps he should be treated with hypnosis?
The Republicans and the Democrats have at least one thing in common, two heinous crimes which they (and with them the West) share. Many things about this election are explained by these anterior crimes from which both sides sought to profit with impunity. The secret expiation of this crime feeds the 2008 election in its confusion and its allure of the settling of accounts. Such is the shared agreement to forget them, that little is spoken about these prior episodes, namely the stolen elections in 2000 and 2004 and the war in Iraq. The Democrats must avenge their failure to win, even though they were also aggressors and sure of their impunity. They must avenge themselves against the Republicans who trained them for it, while the voting Americans, for their part, must try to forget that the Democrats are the embarrassing accomplices in both of those criminal acts.
For any government official or despot, power over their own people takes precedence over everything else. The 2008 election provides the best chance to ensure the continuation of this power. Both Bush and whichever candidate “loses” will prefer to concede rather than destroy the internal hegemony or sacrifice profits, etc. In this sense, the more-obvious-than-usual no-bid-contract war profiteering by the Bush cabinet and others is a good sign: it is the ploy of a burglar who stashes his haul in order to retrieve it when he comes out of prison (the public eye), thus an argument against any heroic or apocalyptic intention.
While one fraction of the intellectuals and activists, specialists in the reserve army of political labor, are whole-heartedly in favor of the election, and another faction are against it from the bottom of their hearts, all are agreed on one point: this election exists, we have seen it.
There is no interrogation into the event itself or its reality; or into the fraudulence of this election, the programmed and always delayed illusion of representative democracy; or into the machination of this election and its amplification by information, not to mention the improbable orgy of propaganda, the systematic manipulation of data (and votes), the artificial dramatization... If we do not have practical intelligence about the election (and none of us has), at least let us have a skeptical intelligence towards it, without renouncing the pathetic feeling of its absurdity.
But there is more than one kind of absurdity: that of the election and that of being caught up in the illusion of the election. It is just as in La Fontaine’s fable: the day there is a real election you will not even be able to tell the difference. The real victory of the simulators of democracy is to have drawn everyone into this rotten simulation.
1. This was the cry of Andrew Meyer, a student at the University of Florida who, for repeatedly questioning John Kerry about electoral fraud during the question-answer session of a public lecture in 2007, was tackled and tazed repeatedly in front of the entire audience by the University Police.