I voted today. Always a nice feeling. But while anticipating this event, I suddenly recalled something that happened, TWENTY YEARS AGO, on the eve of the 1992 Presidential election (Bush I v. Clinton). The night before that election, I launched a little theater company in a Deep Ellum bar with a small group of wild-eyed romantics. As part of the celebration, we performed a political satire I’d written called “Lend Me Your Ears,” a 45-minute piece comprised entirely of Shakespearean mash-ups.
This eve, after I got over the trauma of realizing that this event occurred TWENTY YEARS AGO, which means that I am OLD, I thought I might as well try to blog about it. It’s not that I can whip out the script and quote passages. That script is long gone, as much a victim of “Time’s bending sickle” as I am. I only remember a few random bits and those unforgettable characters—Bush asking us to read his lips, Clinton asking us to look past Jennifer Flowers’ big hair, Pat Buchanan inciting a culture war, Ross Perot with his fantastic ears. And I remember a packed house. And lots of laughter. Perhaps that could have been because of the alcohol that was flowing freely. But I prefer to think that the crowd actually understood the resonances between the Bard’s work and current events and found it all hilarious.
Shakespeare is full of subtle political commentary that has, unlike my memory, withstood the test of time. For instance, there is the scene in Richard III in which Buckingham, basically, Richard’s chief campaign strategist, advises Richard to resist the offer of power “but by mighty suit” and to make sure that, when he is approached about assuming the throne, he “get a prayer-book in [his] hand” and be seen “stand[ing] betwixt two churchmen.” Political leaders still know that we prefer the idea of a politician who, like Plato’s Philosopher King, has to be dragged reluctantly into a race because, despite his personal preference for things spiritual, he will assume the mantle of power only because “his country needs him.” So politicians still play that game. And, amazingly, people still fall for it.
Because has so many political insights to offer, until this excruciatingly long, contentious, and close election is behind us, I am just going to offer up some. That exercise will, perhaps, remind that, even before the advent of modern democracy, human beings have been indulging in the same silly antics. Meanwhile, we can also marvel that, even as we are bludgeoned with those silly antics, many refuse to lose faith entirely in the idea that we deserve better.