“The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition… always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.”
Those words from Roland Barthes, a French critic/philosopher from a different time, apply to politics in Duval County.
And specifically, this applies to the primary election last week.
Here in Jacksonville, we are not given to revolutionary gestures. Most of our people move here from God knows where; many find a niche and remain.
There are a million stories in this city, and not one of them started with “I’m going to go to Jacksonville and make my dreams come true.”
Our politics very often reflect this entropy of spirit.
Think of the mendacious preachers we see on one side of an issue or another, lending a spiritual imprimatur to the proceedings of government, to a political initiative.
Our leaders need that, in part, because it offers convenient shorthand. Getting tough on crime? Starting a war on poverty? Getting people to vote against their own interests?
God Is Good. All The Time™.
We need the imprimatur of spirituality, the reassurance of repetition.
Even if it is, as Barthes intimates, bastardized via repetition, made more inauthentic and less special with every increasingly pallid copy.
Getting past the cynical lede, there actually were reasons for hope last Tuesday.
In large part, because voters in our region didn’t vote for the same old thing, didn’t play themselves for suckers and supplicate themselves at the altar of conformity and incumbency. And they didn’t fall for the quasi-populist mythology.
Consider the congressional races.
Whether Al Lawson can “deliver” for Jacksonville or not is still an open question.
Likewise, whether John Rutherford is going to be a worthy successor to Charles Bennett, Tillie Fowler, and Ander Crenshaw … who the hell really knows?
But in both those races, voters went with pragmatism.
Corrine Brown was damaged goods, and 40 percent of Duval voters let her know that, with roughly 20 percent voting for Lawson and the rest voting for LJ Holloway, who even though she had a foreclosure recently, seemed like a clean alternative to One Door for Education hijinks.
And John Rutherford?
Gotta say that his rhetoric did get a little Fox News at the end of the campaign, as he got baited into calling Black Lives Matter a hate group. But even with those sops to the GOP supervoter, Rutherford was a moderate compared to the yahooism of Ed Malin, Hans Tanzler, and Bill McClure.
More reasons for optimism: GOP primary voters emphatically made the decision to end the political careers of Matt Shirk and Angela Corey.
Shirk believed that, when a grand jury told him to GTFO of office, that they’d get over it.
But voters figured out that, to quote Jay-Z, you can’t change a PD’s game in the ninth inning, and they downed him like shots at last call.
And Corey? She acted like it was the media’s fault that she became internationally infamous. “Criminal justice is not a vicarious spectator sport,” was her refrain. That doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. And even voters in this region got sick of hearing about the lack of accountability in that office.
Filing the write-in candidate’s paperwork, as her then-campaign manager did? That didn’t help. Melissa Nelson’s team found the paper trail, time after time, and the media somehow found the paper trail, too.
When trying to market oneself as a politician, part of the trick is to help media give you positive coverage, rather than lambaste them from a bully pulpit with an enforcer nearby with a gun and cuffs.
The last surprise, to many: the pension tax passing by an almost two-to-one margin.
We saw Lenny Curry say flat-out that there is a revenue problem created by pensions the city can’t simply cancel, and that he had a revenue stream that could address its financing after meaningful changes in collective bargaining.
Curry spent seven months explaining this plan to people who called him a liar, and worse, with gusto.
He trusted that people would figure it out. And he trusted his team to make the presentation resonate with different groups.
In other words, to subvert the myth that people in this market wouldn’t buy into his solution, he had his team create new myths, new narratives. To avoid what Barthes called “humiliated repetition,” it seems the trick was to actually tell people something new.
Corrine Brown, Angela Corey, and Matt Shirk had no new tale to tell, to quote Love and Rockets.
The winners on primary night — at least in the big races — did.