2/16/2005

Domestic Politics: The Harry Potter Test

By now, pretty much the entire country has heard of the Harry Potter book series, written by J.K. Rowling. The books are adored by legions of fans (myself among them), and the movies brought millions and millions more into the magical world of Harry Potter, Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore, and all the rest. Something in the books has struck a chord in the colllective psyche of the world. Perhaps it is the epic battle between Good and Evil, something which has apparently gone out of fashion in more refined circles. Or it could be Harry's growth and maturation, as he endures great pain and heartbreak. Or it could be the wonderfully complex (yet ultimately contemptible) character of Severus Snape, who I believe will go down in history as one of literature's great creations.

Regardless, Harry Potter has become a true cultural phenomenon in much the same way as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings did in previous years. And its fans are of all ages, with readers ranging from as young as four or five to well into their eighties and above.

What does this have to do with politics?

It is a general truism that the political party more seen to be closely aligned with public sentiment will end up with more popular support, and inevitably control of government. I believe that today, and for several years to come, the best measure of public sentiment is Harry Potter. Whether the Democratic or Republican party will emerge the victor in the culture wars now raging will depend in large part on which party can present a narrative that matches the Harry Potter story the closest.

I invite readers to give their own views on the different narratives. Here are my speculations on how the narratives match up:

The Democratic Narrative

(I am taking some direction from a fan article on Mugglenet.com entitled Osama Bin Voldemort and George W. Fudge. It was written shortly before the election, and suffers from some logical gaps. Regardless, it is instructive.)

In the Democratic narrative, the Republicans, and specifically President Bush, correspond to Cornelius Fudge, the inept Minister of Magic. Their primary concern is to extend their own power, and to do so they engage in smear tactics and ruthlessly crush dissent, with such tools as the Patriot Act, and relying on the support of the vast right-wing media apparatus, cf. "The Daily Prophet." They spend a lot of energy consolidating their own position, but disregard the true threats facing America. Insert here anything from Osama bin-Laden, to global warming, to globalization, to deforestation, to budget deficits, etc.

They also employ racist policies towards the black and Hispanic communities, designed to provide a pool of cheap labor for their corporate friends, just as the wizarding world exploits the house-elfs. They also believe themselves justified in dominating "lesser races," as the Ministry dominates the goblins and centaurs.

The Democrats themselves are Dumbledore: resisting the tyranny of Fudge by ceaselessly speaking truth to power, and asking the tough questions that nobody wants to think about. They speak with the wisdom of decades of accumulated political thought coming from universities and various government agencies. They are also trying to shield the rest of the world from the reckless and heavyhanded rule by the new hegemon, as Dumbledore is a friend to the goblins and giants.

The major clash of this generation is between military-industrial domination of the world and corporate domination of the country on one hand, and world harmony, tolerance, and economic fairness on the other. "Fudge" pursues the first, while "Dumbledore" the second.

And who is Voldemort? Well, even the Democrats aren't sure. Some say Osama bin-Laden and other terrorists; some say Bush himself, or perhaps Karl Rove. But there is little agreement on this point.

The Republican Narrative

The Republicans can point to a clear Voldemort, or rather many Voldemorts: those committing terrorism, supporting terrorism, or maintaining tyrannies over their nations. In the Republican way of thinking, they are all linked: the terrorists try to extend their power through murder, extortion, and coercion (much like the Death Eaters), and are aided by dictators who see the lives of others as cheap and expendable.

Standing against them is the government of President Bush, the collective "Dumbledore." Having seen the folly of previous American policy, which was to ignore the problem and hope that it goes away, they have stood up in the face of a world uproar and struck a blow against Evil, in as pure a form as we have seeen on this planet for a very long time. They have used the resources of this country to liberate many millions of people from horrible suffering under ruthless authoritarian dictatorships.

They are opposed by the Democrats, with perhaps Ted Kennedy standing in for Cornelius Fudge. At every turn, the Democratic response was to belittle the problem, call for hesitation, undercut the soldiers in the field, and advocate outright retreat from the field of battle. They also repeatedly claimed that the "lower races," the Arabs and Afghans, were incapable of living in freedom, and that we should leave them in their blissful slavery, as the wizarding world sees the house-elfs. Moreover, some of their harshest vitriol is reserved for Sec. Condoleeza Rice, a black woman who dared to wander off of the Democratic plantation.

The Democrats have at their disposal all the resources of academia and the (formerly) dreaded Mainstream Media, which constantly dance to their tune and do their best to shut out any dissenting voices, as does the "Daily Prophet." Furthermore, in the absence of actual evidence for their position, they exaggerate even the smallest piece of data into monumental critiques of the government, a la Rita Skeeter.

Fundamentally, the Republicans see today an outright clash of Good and Evil in their pure forms. Liberty and freedom are Good. Dictatorship and mass murder are Evil. And the Democrats, and the imbeciles in the UN, are simply getting in the way.

Which is More Compelling?

Obviously I am rather biased. But still, I think that the Republican narrative has a tremendous advantage in that it meshes very well with the thematic underpinnings of the Harry Potter world: love versus death, courage versus fear, justice, freedom. The Democratic narrative, while perhaps corresponding better to specific plot elements, is thematically hollow. Every time a Democratic leader gets on TV and says that a people is not ready for freedom, a sour note is struck for a Harry Potter reader. Every time a Democratic says that we must desert our allies in Iraq, every time a Democrat casts aspersions on the Iraqi election, every time a Democrat repeats the same tired blandishments that we have heard about everyone from Lenin to Che to Castro to Hugo Chavez, the Democratic Party becomes weaker and weaker.

I welcome other thoughts. But I think that until the Democratic Party realizes through and through who the real enemy is, and what the stakes are, then they will wander further and further into the wilderness. And that is not such a good thing.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the theme of friendship that is so strong -- Harry is successful because of the unflinching support of his friends through thick and thin. The political correlation is: can the U.S. maintain "friendships" in the same way as Harry, Ron, and Hermoine? Will we be there through the bumps in Iraq and Afghanistan, or will we abondon them when they need us the most (there is strong precident for the latter course of action). Will we stand by Israel if Abbas turns out to be false or just plain ineffectual (another Fudge?) or will we allow them to falter to please Europe? Will we ever admit what a tyrant Chavez is and how he is destroying Venezuela? Will we confront Putin on the anti-democratic way his government is behaving? And who do you think is the Barty Crouch of politics -- trying to keep problems under wraps until they explode?

Anonymous said...

One thing about your theory that is fundementally flawed is the fact the dumbledore himself is indeed a liberal. He, instead of clinging to past ideas, warrents change and better treatment of others.
Also democrats don't nessecarily believe the Iraqis are incapable if freedom. They just believe that under the Bush administration America will be able to pull the strings of the government thus creating policies that are best for America not Iraq.

Paul said...

I am currently in the middle of writing a college paper on the innate racist divide in the Harry Potter universe. I wonder where these two ideals would place giants, a race that seems to express itself in a culturally different way (ok so most humans, wizards or not, would never survive a giant's greeting, but that does not diminish their cultural actions) but remains an intelligent species, capable of being the equal of muggles and wizards? Are these lumbering creatures seen the same in both: as the causes of destruction for whatever Voldermort is to them? What is the solution, are the giants too far gone to be saved, or can they be guided back to live the life they once did? From the right side, the conflict in the middle east would paste the giants as being at least somewhat redeemable, after the negative influences that turn them to riot are taken, but from the Left, would the giant race be redeemable? It would defiantly leave a bit of a sticking point if the only way to explain away a raiding party is a small hurricane in the south of England.

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