It should have been cold out. It was December, in Columbia, South Carolina, the home of the game cocks, and I stood there, waiting for Barack Obama to speak. He’d win Iowa in a little over a month, but that day, he was still a candidate with an uncertain future. And yet the frisson of change surrounded him already: That day it was a little over seventy degrees — proof, it seemed, of his mysterious powers. Near me was Howard Fineman of Newsweek. He was swaying a little bit to Arrested Development’s song, “Everyday People,” which the band, a good-vibes rap throwback from the early 90s, was playing boisterously in front of him. As one band member finished an incredible vocal solo, and another raised his hands and touted their collective accomplishment of “putting out positive hip-hop” for over a decade, Fineman couldn’t restrain himself any longer and emitted an enthusiastic “Yeah!” while nodding approvingly. There was nothing to be embarrassed about; it was a hell of a vibe.
Oprah took the stage and explained why she had descended from the high mountaintop of daytime television. “For the first time, I’m stepping out of my pew because I’ve been inspired. I’ve been inspired to believe that a new vision is possible for America. Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don’t have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality.” Obama got up on the stage and did his Obama thing. He name-checked a few awful schools — some of them suffering from a century of neglect that he would not continue. There was a lady to the left of the camera banks, screaming that she was a teacher in one of his academic hellholes. She was falling out of her seat, her clothes, and her senses. I have been to Assembly of God prayer rallies and seen people touched by the Holy Spirit; I’ve seen teenagers speaking in tongues and falling on their knees so hard I’ve felt physical pain as their eyes tremble. Oprah called him “The One,” like Neo from The Matrix (except with more personality), and his wife explained to the crowd that her husband was going to change the way we felt about one another. The whole time, all I could think was: Man, these people are going to be disappointed.
And we know the rest: Fired Up!, Ready to Go! And a lot of Yes, We Can! I called my editor and told her that I thought Obama would crush Clinton in South Carolina and then win the nomination. She told me to calm down and stick to my original story. But as we all now know, Yes He Did!
Hope marches on, and even the the most jaundiced have a tear in their eyes.
In a cover story for Esquire, Charles P. Pierce, an embattled and sincere liberal writer, tried to steel himself in the era of Obama-hysterics. Pierce declares our own era one of complicity, one in which we hear the roar of shredders in the executive branch of government, see the disenfranchisement of minorities, witness the trivialization of citizenship, and do. . . nothing. Pierce does not believe in the awesome God of the blue states or the gay friends in the red states. He wants to see the people in the streets. His fierce prose conjures an image of in my mind: The author shoving a photograph of the tortured Matthew Shepherd in the face of a Bush voter, then one of a poor kid in a too-black school district, then the wreckage of Fallujah, then a dead American soldier. “Repent!” he insists.
Pierce protests the unspoken premise of Obama’s campaign. By offering himself — a friendly, smooth, and re-assuring black man — Obama was giving America absolution without penance. But what would be the drama of this glossy feature if Pierce’s heart didn’t melt just a little. After his long, labored (and often convincing) yawp for a return to justice and rightness, Pierce eyes the long, polished candidate, ambling to the stage.
And the cynic [Pierce] realizes at last that he is more naive than anyone else here, particularly more than the slim, smooth candidate himself, stalking the stage in his edgeless way and looking out over the crowd at something in his private distance. The cynic believes in an old, abandoned country that’s no less illusory than the redeemed one Obama is promising to this crowd.
Eureka! And so even the most battle-hardened, faithless progressive turns his eyes upward and makes demands:
Convince me America is not an illusion. Convince me that it never was. Convince me that you’re not a pious mirage. Convince me that we’re not. Now that you brought it up, convince me.
Whereas the public school teacher in South Carolina is the ecstatic joyful mystic, Pierce is the weary, wary theologian, whose learned formulas of forgiveness give out underneath his sudden gnawing need to believe. Is he ever going to be disappointed!
God does not finish his work in a man’s soul with an election, nor is history ever redeemed by one. President Harding may have rolled back the horrifying war powers of Wilson, his predecessor in the executive, and released political prisoners. But a Return to Normalcy will always be accompanied by a tawdry Teapot Dome scandal, just as Bush’s restoration of “honor and dignity to the office of president” came with a disastrous war of choice in Iraq. Conservatives were once euphoric over Reagan. Then, as he struggled, they expressed their faith in him, crying, “Let Reagan be Reagan.” But after the Beirut disaster and Iran-Contra, one wiser conservative said it best: “Let someone else be Reagan.” When American bombs drop in eastern Europe (or some other place Americans cannot find on a map), when gas prices rise suddenly, when a new program leaves some poor child behind, they will say “Let someone else be Obama.”
If he wins the White House, Obama will leak damaging news on Fridays. He will flinch. He will misspeak from podiums adorned with the presidential seal. He will make stupid and damaging bargains with his political enemies. He will not be able to satisfy free-traders and protectionists. He will not usher in an era for new socialist man, nor will he make the march of global capitalism any more pleasant to those it displaces or any more hip to those that it enriches. He will not convince his opponents that they were wrong all along. They will not forgive him with a friendly laugh. He won’t trim the illegal powers bestowed on the office by his predecessors. Out of expediency, he will use codewords designed to vilify the opinions of millions of his countrymen. And occasionally, he will just be a boring, incompetent, tired, human. His story is one of a long, tragic, assimilation into our political class.
My only hope for Obama is that his blunders and scandals disabuse my countrymen of their misplaced faith. Let them turn their faces on an ancient verse: Put not your trust in princes. If he ends the war in Iraq, that would be nice too.
--Michael Brendan Dougherty is associate editor at The American Conservative.
(Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy Flickr user tonx.)
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl