Anne Applebaum writes about the London mayoral race, between a clownish upper-class Tory and the incumbent, a clownish Marxist. It has degenerated into a rather comical clash of personalities. She suggests that this is a picture of the post-ideological politics that many of us claim we want. In our postmodernist frame of mind, ideas do not matter (since there is no truth), so personality and entertaining shenanigans are all that is left. Here is what she says:
This is a personality contest, and a deeply unserious one at that: If the good people of London really thought their traffic mattered that much, Boris wouldn’t be a candidate and Ken would never have been elected in the first place. But it’s a competition nevertheless worth watching. This campaign could well be a blueprint for future elections since it is “post-modern,” and post-ideological, in the deepest sense: In a world in which “issues” are not the issue and no one takes political parties seriously anymore, there’s nothing left to talk about except who said what to whom and whose tongue was sharper while doing so.
Usually, we don’t have this problem in the United States, our politics being too partisan and our nation too divided to allow for it. But a glimpse of what it could be like is available in the form of the Democratic primary, which has also deteriorated, unsurprisingly, into a particularly nasty personality clash. Any long-drawn-out contest between two people who don’t — let’s face it — differ that much on fundamental issues will invariably turn into farce; whether it’s an amusing one, as in London, or a “bitter” one, as in Pennsylvania, depends on the characters of the candidates involved.
So three cheers, then, for ideological politics or at least for real clashes of ideas, and let’s hope our presidential election, when we get to it, includes some: At least ideologically divisive elections make everyone talk about things that matter.
I think she overstates the matter, or, perhaps like post-ideological Londoners, misses that there is a huge ideological divide between the conservative Tory and “Red Ken” who defends Stalin and who wanted to stage a rally celebrating Fidel Castro. Ideologies are still important, though perhaps the public is getting so postmodern they don’t even recognize them. Still, the reduction of politics to personality, image, and soap opera is probably the true postmodernist political legacy.