Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Blacksmith (Part Deux)

The post below is the complete text of Arthur Rimbaud's poem "The Blacksmith," recounting the final days of the French Revolution. Years ago, I performed this piece in a high school Forensics competition, and it has stayed in my mind ever since. Over the years, Rimbaud's other works have faded from my mind; important, yes, but without the impact of this piece. As a mere kid in high school, my mind revelled at the rebellious blacksmith, the violent struggle for power and the denunciation of Kings, what Rimbaud hoped to be the last of a dying breed. Yet over the years, as I have grown and matured, the meaning has changed, as these things tend to do.

Reading the piece again, it amazes me the relevance that such a piece has today. Moreover, the irony of the situation is nearly terrifying. The French Revolution, that key event in the history of mankind, the one event that could have set man upon his greatest journey, set man free to triumph with all the promise of greatness...

The irony is that the French Revolution was the primary influence on the founders of my own country, the siren call that echoed across the ocean and years and set the cogs in motion to create an American Revolution. It was the Declaration of the Rights of Man that led to our Declaration of Independence, it was the mighty Blacksmith crowning Louis with the cap of revolution that sent Smiths and Farmers to the battlefields of Newtown and Virginia. No matter who the messenger was, no matter what you may think of the "Founding Fathers" or the French Revolutionaries, this was the sequence of events that cause a cataclysm around the world, the Democratic Revolution that started a brushfire which would soon encompass the world. Revolutions around the world started in the Tulieries Palace that August day.

Paul Schmidt, to whom I owe a tremendous gratitude for his fantastic translation of Rimbaud's complete works, says in his introduction that Rimbaud's writings are "a quest, a search for a kind of perfection only children believe in," yet I wonder who too was intoxicated with such heady ideas of freedom and individualism. The naivety of which Schmidt speaks seems a blessing rather than a curse. Better a nation of idealists, eh?

Irony shifts and swims and swirls through history, the unfolding of human events play cruel and unfunny jokes upon the participants. From the Revolution has come the King. The nation forged in blood, tears, and perhaps even the idealism of a young Arthur Rimbaud has since trekked back to the pains of past generations. The excavation of the ancient is not of learnedness, but of laziness. The present is not an investigation of the past, but rather an initiation of the past practices. Democrats, as a party, and as idealists, are dead, dismembered, discredited. Only fear remains.

How can history twist so disturbingly? How can the enemy of the past become the leader of the future? Iraq, Iran, numerous countries throughout the past century made the easy transfer from "friend" to "foe" and vice-versa, but even Orwell did not imagine Eurasia or Eastasia suddenly becoming the celebrated leaders Oceania. Yet America now more than ever embraces kingship, the "one man, one plan" government system. The discrepancy between off-year and on-year elections has never been so great in modern history. Why do Americans so desperately long for a strong, solitary leader?

Is it any wonder that in a country of vegged-out television junkies? Any wonder in a country where "The Apprentice" reigns supreme? Why should Americans not worship the powerful man, the man in charge, the head honcho? Democrats and Republicans alike place their hopes and dreams upon the shoulders of a single man, a John K or George W, begging a single man to save them from the mass of politicians running Washington. "Beltway politics" seem as abhorrent to a liberal as a christian conservative, and the resultant emphasis on Presidential elections only furthers the problem and encourages our 98 percent incumbency rate.

You see the point. The question is, what to be done about it? Mandatory C-Span viewings in every household? Well, I like that idea personally, but it'll never fly. I'll just continue to watch it by myself instead. How about competency and basic political knowledge tests as a voting prerequisite? Well, we've already got the lowest voter turnout of any first world country, so that probably wouldn't would only make the problem worse. Plus, I'm not in favor of eugenics in any form, not even in politics.

Yet there's already a precedent set for a change that might at least help the current situation. The 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution states that " No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice." This restriction was imposed to defend the people from themselves, from a self-imposed tyranny. Yet with a Congressional return rate such as ours, shouldn't the question be asked, is an aristocracy more favorable than a tyranny? Should Strom Thurmond have reigned as long as he did?

Though it seems a roundabout way of attacking Presidential supremacy, consider the possibility of a term-limited Congress. Perhaps this would force more people to pay attention to local politics, to state positions. Perhaps this would decrease overall political ignorance and apathy. Perhaps this would increase off-term election turnout. Perhaps this would call for increased accountability throughout both the Executive and the Legislative branches. Perhaps this would even decrease campaign time, in favor of more effective policies upon which to base an incumbency bid. Perhaps this would increase turnover rates even before term limitations came into effect.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe it would do the opposite. Maybe the world would crumble. Maybe campaigns would run the full length of a term. Maybe it would shift more focus toward the Presidential elections. Maybe nuclear weapons would go off of their own accord.

But I'll tell you one thing: It would eliminate career politicians. It would eliminate "Beltway politics." It would encourage new, younger, enthusiastic men and women to seek public office and rejuvenate the stagnant system with a beating rather than a pulsing heart.

Too bad it's those people in power now that would have to pass such an amendment.


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