Michelle Obama stutters. She does not have a stutter. She stutters on purpose. "I-I-I, I've seen it in our men and women in uniform." "Fr-from the young person with so much promise." "And-and, even as a kid..."
It is a studied stutter, deployed in order to build sincerity. It is not so much a rhetorical device as an acting device. The same could be said for the presentation of almost all political convention speeches. And it is, at its core, sad.
When Michelle Obama spoke last night, I felt nothing. Not because I dislike Michelle Obama, or disagree with the political values she was asserting, or am unmoved by her charisma. I felt nothing because I'd just come from another political convention last week, full of people I loathe promoting values I despise, which was indistinguishable from last night's convention ceremony. The same painstaking lighting for the cameras. The same high production values. The same soft-focus video introductions, the same relentless repetition of soft-focus issues, the same smiles and fashions and chants of "U-S-A!" Our two political parties stand for slightly different positions on many issues. But no political party stands for honesty.
The sense of disgust with the way that we conduct our political campaigns can, and perhaps should, overwhelm our personal affinity for this or that party. For both parties, and their candidates, and their party machines, and their loyalists, and we in the media that create and nurture the narrative that accompanies all of them, have forsaken all attempts at sincerity. The conventions are a pageant. The speeches are performances. And everyone analyzes them as such. It is considered gauche, juvenile, ignorant, downright simple to insist that the process of selecting the most powerful person in the world be conducted in an adult manner, with a serious conversation between the candidates and the country on the serious issues that we, collectively, face.
Yesterday, journalist Michael Tracey was instructed to leave a DNC media section for asking Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett about drone strikes. Such temerity is considered rude, here at the pageant. Even reasonable people—people in the media, people who are on the same side as you are, politically—will frequently frown on such behavior. Later for that. Not here. Not during our tearjerking moments, our chance to feel good about ourselves and marvel at the glamor of the leaders we have selected. The protesters who interrupt speeches are not taken seriously, by those who ostensibly agree with them. The few journalists who relentlessly bring up uncomfortable subjects are considered downers. Drone strikes? Perhaps, maybe, later. But not now. Now is about family, and love, and other things with which polls show it is impossible to disagree. Michelle is speaking, and the dress is gleaming, and we are all able to revel in a moment of collective ecstasy over our own self-righteousness.
We are all quick to point out the palpable lack of sincerity in those on the other side. For those on our own side, such theatrics are considered forgivable—a nod to reality, a concession to necessity. We congratulate ourselves on being hard-nosed realists who understand these things are for a higher good. To demand outright honesty, on stage, in prime time, is considered stupid. Childish. Naderesque. There is no need to address the concerns of those who harp on such things; we simply remove them from the sphere of acceptable voices, and continue on with the ceremony.
There is no need for our leaders to convince us that an election should be determined in the most superficial way possible. We have already convinced ourselves.