Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here Comes the New Boss

Stelios Varias,Reuters

A friend who knows my political views asked me: "you're not looking forward to tomorrow, are you?" Referring of course to the ascent of Obama to the presidential throne. Now to be honest, I don't know how I feel about Obama, expressed on a simple level of positive/negative, good/bad, what have you. Unlike Rob Payne, I'm willing to acknowledge that between Obama and McCain, Obama might be marginally preferable, notwithstanding the embarrassment evoked by the contingent who insist on treating him like he can part the sea and persuade the sun to shine.

That's not the same as saying I think he was a desirable choice for president per se, or even for the democratic nomination-- but I'll get to that. This April Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will turn 89, later this year Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be 76, and in fact the youngest of the liberal members of the court, Stephen Breyer, will turn 70 in 2009. I would have preferred somebody like Dennis Kucinich or even John Edwards had been the president to appoint Stevens's and Ginsberg's replacements, but that was not to be. I note this because it's pretty likely they will retire soon, and with a certain unease I'll nevertheless assert that I prefer Obama rather than McCain(or Palin) be the person to appoint their replacements.

In spite of what I see as the broader reality of Obama's nature as a corporatist quisling, I imagine some modest benefits will emerge from Obama being president rather than McCain. Federal policy on stem-cell research may become sane again, and (possibly) his environmental policies will be better than McCain's would have been. But as far as foreign and economic policy go, I doubt we'll see anything that represents "hope" or "change", with or without ironic quotation marks.

I suppose the thing I find so maddening about the ascendancy of Obama is it comes along at precisely the moment that the broader public was probably readier than they have been in decades for a real liberal reformer in the white house, what with the many missteps of the second George Bush and his cronies. And instead we get Barack Obama, who seems intent on repackaging soak-the-poor and destroy-the-welfare-state politics as the new, new liberalism, the variety you didn't know you wanted until he came along and cleared things up. It seems so abundantly clear to me that he's a fraud, a speaker of pretty words that flatter the ill-informed, and that his bipartisan, "post-ideological" ethos is really just craven opportunism, the positioning of a product-- which in this case is also a person-- in the marketplace of politics so it looks its best in the available light.

And yet, on one side of our screwy political culture we have the Obamazoids who want to flash a victory sign and cheer their new messiah so they can stop thinking and just groove on a warm feeling, and on the other the talk-radio cretins who insist that he's a socialist(?!), possibly because he doesn't want to bomb Ahmedinejad without talking to him first, or because he's never hunted moose from an airplane. Or because he's black.

About that. Although the historical significance of our first black president has been over-sold, I think even people understandably leery of the hype and the cult of Obama need to allow that his election is a sign of social progress, even if you have to qualify it by also recognizing how strenuously Obama bent over backwards to reassure middle America that he was the nice, non-threatening type of black guy, the one that Hollywood leads us to believe will absolve us of our sins in the great shopping mall in the sky.

Another friend tells me to "give him a chance," as if my attitude makes the least bit of difference. While I don't think my attitude towards Obama is remotely relevant, I'm guessing my attitude towards his flock does matter. It's probably vanity to hope to personally change the political landscape for the better, at least in terms of measurable individual effort. But collective effort is the sum of the individuals who try to achieve.....thing x, whatever that thing is, whether it's through the march of a million people or the raising of a hundred million dollars for a cause.

When I saw a news story in October about the Obama organization raising 150 million dollars in 30 days, roughly concurrent with the demise of Cursor, I couldn't help but think about that, about how the flesh is willing, the collective progressive impulse is there, but the collective mind is weak, misdirected by personality-oriented politics. The people at Cursor said all they need is about 75 grand to run for a year,a sum Obama could raise in less than half an hour. And Cursor did more to wake people up to the issues of the day than a hundred celebrity-penned Huffington Post op-eds. Not in terms of audience size, unfortunately, but in terms of the quality and relevance of the content.

But-- also unfortunately-- that clearly isn't enough. I thought about that ironic disconnect again today, when I saw the images of over one million-- and possibly close to two million-- people converging at the mall in D.C. to see Obama become president-- of how the collective progressive impulse is there, but that, functionally, Obama is an agent of (the co-option of) change.

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people," or so the old saying goes. It may well be true, but making fun of those millions who believe in Obama the savior of America rather than reaching out to them is willful and vain and stupid. Large numbers of them, black and white and otherwise, will experience a letdown when Obama emerges as just another politician, and to borrow from Barack himself, that will be a "teachable moment."

Remind yourself of 2003, and how unlikely George Bush's days with lower ratings than Nixon seemed when he was prancing around on that aircraft carrier. Obama undoubtedly has more sense than Bush Junior, at least as far as permitting himself such an unrestrained display of hubris, but even he has to realize that you can't get an 80 percent approval rating just for being the president-elect without an inevitable falling action being in store. And how much of his current approval is mere approval for his not-George-Bush quality? Even you and I and the cashier at Quiznos possess that same quality, and as far as I know nobody voted for us.

I could say, "naturally I hope I'm wrong about Obama...." largely out of a desire to seem like a reasonable person. Well sure, I do hope I'm wrong, but I think such a hope is insufficient, and the afore-mentioned letdown is coming. And I repeat: simply making fun of the millions who believe in him is unwise, insofar as large numbers of them WILL decide he isn't what they hoped he would be. And then what? Some of them are-- will be-- reachable.

(If anything, I'd guess that a lot of the newly politicized Obamazoids are among the more reachable, because their brains aren't as full of the accomodationist bullshit that so many regular rank-and-file democrats have crammed their craniums with, the kind of folks that Dennis Perrin regularly warns us about.)

In the meantime, liberalism is bleeding in the gutter where it was left by Reagan, and the Clintons, and Fox news, and by the democratic party leadership, and the faux-liberal putative left who eagerly swallow one "third way" capitulation after another, and by the rest of the news networks... and Obama.

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom.

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At January 21, 2009 5:31 AM, Blogger rob payne said...

Nice post Jonathan, ‘bout time too – just kidding. I think I would agree with everything you said except McCain of course (sniff-sniff). It’s not that I like McCain or the awful Palin but what is most important to me are the deaths of innocent people. Compared to any little improvements Obama may make over the Bush years they are not all that important to me. I don’t mean to sound callous about stem-cell research but really when you compare the deaths of so many people to whatever crumbs Obama may throw our way it just does not stack up, at least not for me. Also now that Obama has been using McCain as a consultant on foreign policy we get the benefit of both!


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