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DemCon Day 1 – Rage

August 25th, 2008 by Curtis

by Curtis Robinson (not Don Kahle)

For a while there, it was easy to be pissed off at “Rage”

Rage Against The Machine exploded onto the cultural scene in the 90s with a mostly-rap sound that brought amazing music and energy to the fundamentally flawed idea that U.S. voters should not participate in a two-party system. Now they are bringing that message, slightly updated, to the Democratic National Convention.

RATM, as it’s sometimes called, plays today and has become a sort of de facto Keynote Event for the non-laminated convention goers.

Of course, anger is nothing new in politics, although it’s usually packaged as “outrage” these days. Politicians today move beyond being angry or even cynical into a post-cynical age more akin to Ayn Rand’s objectivism than to anything envisioned by Thomas Jefferson or even Richard Nixon, who might look around today’s political landscape and marvel at how the seeds he planted have taken root, blossomed and finally born fruit.

But for a Democratic National Convention walking the line between open healthy debate (and the resulting protest) and projecting a controlled on-message image, “Rage Against The Machine” is a reminder that good old-fashioned fear and loathing is still with us. Granted, it has a corporate record deal and performs amid staunch security, but it’s still out there.

RATM came to power in the 90s, and the band’s wake-up call against political apathy found a wildly receptive audience. It was a time when LA was going up in flames, inner-city murder rates were approaching third world levels and a largely unpopular war in the Middle East seemed to hasten both secular and religious versions of the End Days — wait, that was the early 90s. How much we’ve progressed in that now instead of watching raw CNN feeds as the only uncensored news coverage we can enjoy websites and get the images on our phones. Wheee doggies.

I’ve never bought the core Rage message, which boils down to: The two party system offers no real choice and we ought to support third party guys even if they don’t have a chance to win. Does anyone now there’s no difference between Barack Obama and John McCain? Really?

No, there’s plenty of difference. But you can’t get the story from the headline, and the headline is what takes place in mainstream media. That is all image and it should do what any good headline does — pull you into the story. But the headline ain’t the story and mainstream media ain’t the candidate. You don’t read the newspaper and just skim the headlines … do you?

This was a real problem even ten years ago, when finding a candidates actual stance on issues made a trip to the DMV seem like a three-day weekend.

But these days virtually anyone with an Internet connection, or a Library card, and the sense God gave a goose can find the story. Want to know why some of America’s teachers are looking askance at Candidate Obama? Check out his feelings about merit pay — which in Teacherland is code for a conservative agenda linked to vouchers and charter schools and the whole public education system. It’s not as critical as some other issues, but they see it the way hunters see the assault weapons issue: The first step toward things they really care about.

But I have been wrong about Rage. Because among the promises kept by the Bush Administration (and you have to admit that, for all practical purposed he’s united the nation, albeit against him, while creating real change in our automobile culture, albeit with $4 gasoline) is the element of anger. Boy, this country is about as pissed off as I’ve seen it without something burning up on TV … no, I mean something something in THIS country. And thing about “Rage” is that they are not called “Logic Against The Machine” or “Irony Against the Machine” or even “Grassroots Organizing To Actually Build A Third Party Instead Of Making A Bid Deal Every Now And Them Against The Machine.”

They give voice to simmering anger and a focus to our free-floating frustration. We need these vents before LA drivers start shooting at each other again (they did stop, right?) or we take to the streets in ways usually reserved for winning major sporting events.

It’s telling that Rage Against The Machine is a very hot ticket for DemCon 08. Everything about them — from the lottery system to assure public access to the performance to their long-term commitment to their ideas, however debatable — threatens to offer a contrast to the “official” DemCon events. That’s normal enough in normal times — but when your candidate’s main theme is “change,” it’s interesting how much the baseline anger of “Rage” still calls us to task. The machine, indeed is still worth getting pissed off about.

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