FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: "I TOOK THE W OFF MY CAR TODAY"

I have never been a fan of Peggy Noonan, Presidential speech writer for Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Elder, but here column in this week's Wall Street Journal ('American Grit') is a window into the spiraling crisis on the...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 07/14/2007

I have never been a fan of Peggy Noonan, Presidential speech writer for Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Elder, but here column in this week's Wall Street Journal ('American Grit') is a window into the spiraling crisis on the right.

Lulled by violent rhetoric into absolute faith in all things George W. Bush, vast portions of the right have now finally reached the tipping point.  These "rock-ribbed" Republicans, as Noonan calls them, have now started to make symbolic gestures that signal change to themselves and to others.

In this opening section of her piece, Noonan recalls a recent email she received recently from a reader (emphasis mine):

I received an email before the news conference from as rock-ribbed a Republican as you can find, a Georgia woman (middle-aged, entrepreneurial) who'd previously supported him. She said she'd had it. "I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth." I was startled by her vehemence only because she is, as I said, rock-ribbed. Her email reminded me of another, one a friend received some months ago: "I took the W off my car today," it said on the subject line. It sounded like a country western song, like a great lament.

I agree with Noonan that this email from a reader is significant, but not that it embodies a "great lament."  Quite the opposite.  The truly important political gestures are not "great" or dramatic, but ordinary and everyday.

The choice to move the radio dial one station over and keep it there all the time; the choice to switch from one church to another because a new pastor talks regularly about politics; the choice to put a sticker on a car bumper to let everyone know, all the time, that you support the policies of the President--these are ordinary gestures.  They change us not in an single stroke, but through repetition in our daily actions.

Unfortunately, many professionals in institutional politics dismiss the significance of these small political gestures.  But Noonan picks up where they miss out.

As political people, Americans have developed many ways to turn the ordinary things that make up our daily lives into  expressions of our political identities.  Of course, cars do not vote.  Yet, they are a crucial part of our electoral system because they make up the landscape of political loyalty that we create and inhabit.

And not just cars.  T-shirts, front lawns, notebook covers, laptop computer cases, lapels, iTunes song lists--we attach our politics to all these aspects of our daily routines because they allow us to show others who we are politically.   The things we carry with us, wear, and walk through, thus become our political lives. 

The voting booth is certainly important, but it seems so small compared to all the rest.

So imagine what it must feel like to feel suddenly at odds that the world of symbols one has crafted to express a faith in President Bush. It is not the "great lament" that Noonan describes, but something more akin to an allergic reaction or the nausea brought on by a bunch of flowers turned wretchedly foul.

Across America, rock-ribbed Republicans are suddenly feeling nauseated instead of inspired when they see President Bush.  And when they turn to their own everyday worlds festooned with symbols of loyalty, the only way to cope is to reach for the putty knife and start scrapping away those W stickers as fast as humanly possible.

That sound of putty knives scraping on bumpers across America--that is the sound of political change on the horizon, even if we may not know, yet,what kind of policy change or electoral change all that scraping will bring.

© 2007 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2007, Frameshop

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