Like it or not, in today's politics, personality trumps policy. As our attention spans have withered, so too have our appetites -- and aptitudes -- for absorbing any information that doesn't come in bite-size kernels. Who wants to watch a debate about Medicare reform? Who the hell even knows what Medicare reform is?
Nope, from the inspired moment when Michael Deaver stuck a jar of jelly beans in Ronnie Reagan's glad hand, the name of the game has been image. To fight that fact might be morally right, but it's electorally wrong. Which is why John Kerry is giving Democrats the silent shakes. Nobody likes to say it -- and those who do are rebuked for reducing the discourse -- but listen closely to the Senator's leaden tone and you can almost hear the PR chains of old Al Gore dragging behind him like the ghost of Jacob Marley.
The Dems need a rock star again -- they had one in Clinton, even if his lecherous id soon made a liability of that asset -- and Kerry needs a V.P. According to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis, Kerry must consider geography, demography, timing and credibility. But more importantly, he must consider likability; the person chosen must have something about him that will stack up against the utterly shallow yet insurmountable fact that a lot of people really want to go fishing with Dubya.
The Dems may want to consider Moby for the job. Though he hasn't thrown his hat in the ring yet, he seems to be campaigning. Way back in September, long before the Dean Machine careened off the tracks, the New York City technocrat stepped to the plate for the New England aristocrat. More recently, reports even linked Moby to dirty tactics on behalf of the Kerry camp. Apparently he suggested that operatives should go into pro-life chatrooms and spread gossip that Bush paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortion. (Moby, Moby, Moby, what would Jesus do?) It's the wrong scheme but the right spirit; Lord knows Rove and his henchmen have already started playing dirty.
And Moby also seems to be trying to make himself more appealing to heartland voters. Crack open his newest disc, Baby Monkey (released under the nom de guerre "Voodoo Child"), and the first sentence you read in the liner notes is "Thanks and love to Christ." The Dems need stuff like that badly. Religiosity has for too long been the GOP's favorite dagger to throw at godless, blue-blooded bicoastal liberals and their European friends, and Kerry gets markedly mealy-mouthed when pressed on whether or not he has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Not so Moby -- much like Dubya, he has long worn his Christianity on his sleeve and even woven it vaguely into his work. If Karl Rove can market that angle to capture the chapel vote, why can't Terry McAuliffe use Moby to deliver the youth group vote?
Moby really should overhaul his Web diaries, though. Right now they have the quixotic weirdness and pacifist tone of someone coming down off mushrooms: "asianlonghornbeetle pointed out to me that today is / 02-03-04. well, in the u.s it is. in the europe i guess it's / 03-02-04. but let's just focus / on the / 02-03-04 / for the time being, ok? moby. " That's tough to spin. Is it a stab at unilateralism? I'd sure hate to see Bill O'Reilly get ahold of it.
Meanwhile, chatter abounds on both the left and the right about "shoring up the base," and Baby Monkey finds Moby doing just that. As he Clintonially triangulates in the liner notes, Baby Monkey is "not an experimental record, not an avant-garde record, but a straightforward, underground, electronic dance record." Got that? Moby knows how to stay on message in case you don't. It's a "simple, straightforward dance record," he says later.
And he knows better than to not deliver on a promise -- no "Read my lips, no new taxes" gaffes here. Barring a few minor exceptions and a gorgeous ninth-inning diversion in "Synthesisers," Moby achieves his straightforward dance record: It's an album for the dance floor; nothing more, nothing less. For a bipolar techno artist, whose styles have been all over the map, ranging from ear-splitting, record-setting, 1000 BPM epileptic seizures to Brian Eno atmospheric breathers, the discipline displayed here is either admirable or boring, depending on what you feel like.
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Each track seems to re-announce this tunnel vision as Moby lays out an insistent beat and lets the rest of the elements fall into place. The synth runs seem familiar, as do the bass lines, particularly the deep rumbles underneath "Gotta Be Loose in Your Mind" that echo Play's "Bodyrock." "Electronics" stands out for its minimalist beauty with its pulsing orb at the core and multilayered sirens wandering around the rafters.
But there's something lacking. What's missing is the emotional Moby we've come to know, the contemplative Moby, the Moby alone with his plaintive guitar strings and ambient noises. This is the Moby that, once commercialized, sold products and scored soundtracks.
This is the Moby that touched people -- and if resurrected, it is the Moby who could reach voters. "God Moving over the Face of the Waters," immodestly titled as it may have been, was the perfect match for Michael Mann's moody denouement in Heat. Imagine this heavenly track soaring out of the Democratic National Convention's speakers in Boston this July; as confetti drops from the ceiling and red, white and blue balloons drift skyward; as John Kerry's craggy mug beams as his hip and huggable bald sidekick looks on.
Massachusetts liberals know all too well what happens when you put on a helmet and get in a tank. Maybe this time they should try a Puma jumpsuit on for size.