The most dangerous case of buyer's remorse in history.
I hesitate to write this. Honi soit qui mal y pense. But I fear someone has to.
That Obama would win wasn't a surprise. That people would feel a sense of history and, well, hope, was to be expected; indeed, that was the point of it all.
But instead of the typical, "good game, guys" and hand shakes all around, I watched in amazement as my country went completely insane, on international TV, for everyone to see.
I watched as the media dispensed with any pretense of impartiality. It was as if they were covering the Olympics, America vs. Russia, and the clock was ticking down 5...4...3...2... "Obama's going to win! Obama's going to win! We're about to make history!"
MSNBC's Keith Oberman plunged headfirst into sycophancy, cheering how great a day it was for African-Americans. "We did it!" Really?
Even CNBC reporters, who had all year made it clear they weren't voting for Obama, joined the other stations in blathering about a new age in history. You are familiar with the platitudes, I hardly need repeat them.
Victory celebrations are fine, but am I mistaken that 40% of the country did not vote for him? And that at least a sizable minority of those people do not believe we are now at a new dawn in history? Did these people suddenly evaporate?
That a black man has been elected President is a testament to the power of the nation, yes, I get it. But there's a certain oppressive feeling about it all, as if that mere fact precludes any dissent; as if to feel that this is anything other than a cultural reawakening of America is an outright violation of human rights.
There is an almost complete sense of the moral rightness of the win, as if the 40% of the electorate that didn't vote for him are anyway thrilled with the outcome of the election. 60% win may be a landslide, but it's still an F. It's not something you tape to the refrigerator.
"But so what, let them gloat a while, as long as he does the right thing..."
Let me be clear that there is more here than simply "our candidate won." This is the belief that everything is different now.
The problem is with two terms: "them" and "right things." Without taking a side, at least accept that there are a lot of "thems" and a lot of "right things"-- all of which have their Hopes for Change in Obama.
What is different form other presidencies is that a number of people expect a number of things-- and these things are often contradictory.
Millions of people are not going to be just disappointed, they are going to feel tricked.
A vote for Change-- what if nothing changes? What if the Bilderbergers and ex- Carter administration people bring nothing but More Of The Same AND Less Of Everything? Do you say, "well, I guess that didn't go as planned" or do you become so jaded about the political process that your anger turns generalized? Paranoid?
Remember, this wasn't John Kerry, the man chosen because he was supposedly more palatable than Howard Dean; this was everyone's first choice, this is exactly the guy they wanted, with completely rational expectations that he was going to at least attempt to deliver.
But-- sit down, think about this for a minute-- what happens if he fails? Not fails in his attempts, but fails to attempt the things everyone expects him to accomplish? What if he succeeds in doing the opposite of what you thought he would attempt?
How long before people move away from scapegoats, and attack the system that (they believe) uses them, tricks them, tricked everyone into accepting Barack Obama, figurehead, so the "powers that be" can go on with their plans?
Hating George Bush was a popular pastime, and often took the form, "if only he weren't President..." How long before we decide that it's the system that's the problem? Then what?
This isn't a case of unrealistic expectations. These are expectations which deliberately ignore reality. The Economist, in its post election article "Great Expectations," actually wrote:
Mr Obama will not take office until January 20th, but he can use the next ten weeks well. A good start would be to announce that he will offer jobs to a few Republicans.Really? Could the writers of one of the most important periodicals actually believe this is a possibility? There had to be deep back room deals just to get Clinton people on his team. Old guard Democrats follow him everywhere. Really, Republicans? But not just Republicans:
Mr Obama might even find a non-executive role for John McCain, with whom he agrees on many things...This is slightly less probably than Obama appointing Daleks to his cabinet, but the crucial issue is whether The Economist understands that its Great Expectations for Obama are exactly the opposite of the great expectations of a lot of the people who voted for him?
People voted for Bush for a variety of reasons, but any two Bush supporters, while differeing in what they wanted him to do, did not have a different expectation of what Bush would try to do. When Bush said he was going to keep Guantanamo open, we expected him to try to keep Guantanamo open. He did not try to close Guantanamo-- and no one expected him to.
These aren't unrealistic expectations, they're both perfectly realistic. What they are, however, is incompatible.
Don't listen to opinion polls that say 78% approve of Obama: the hatred on the Right is already seething. They'll not admit it, they'll avoid the topic altogether except amongst themselves, in hushed tones, always looking over their shoulder, cognizant that they are surrounded by enemies.
If they hated Obama, it wouldn't matter. They don't hate Obama.
The day after the election, Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote an op-ed inthe WSJ-- let me repeat that, the WSJ-- which began, "I must admit, I cried. I'm not perfectly sure why, but of course I was overjoyed."
Well, if she's not sure why she cried, it's going to be hard for half the country that didn't vote for him to know either. But I'll grant that the author of Prozac Nation may indeed have been so moved. "America itself," she writes, "which is a menagerie of mutts, has been a mightier nation for its diversity."
All fine sentiments which can be used to pad any college essay. The problem for her, for the WSJ, and for all of us, is that the sentence she wrote immediately preceding that one is this:
Most of the multiracial people I know seem more beautiful and talented than those of us boring folks who are just one dull thing.When you write that in the WSJ, when you expect people to understand it, to agree with it-- when you ask people not simply to accept all races and cultures but to tacitly admit that yours is inferior, you are courting disaster.
They don't hate Obama, they hate Obama supporters.
When a person heaps expectations and impulses on a person they don't really know well, in psychiatry it is called transference. When multiply diverse groups heap contradictory expectations and impulses on a person they don't know well, that's celebrity. They're the same process.
Obama's a celebrity, all right, I wonder if anyone has considered that this is not an entirely desirable role for a President. America has a love-hate relationship with all their other celebrities, why should this one end differently? Bill Clinton was the last celebrity President, a tenth of Obama, and you know what they did with him. And then they traded him for George Bush.
"But the celebrity's an accident, he didn't deliberately set out to become one."
I'm not so sure. In this culture being a celebrity counts for a lot, as long as you are a celebrity we are willing to tolerate all sorts of nonsense, from nightvision sex tapes to Scientology to adopting 19 kids. We may even ultimately hate you, but if you say, "buy this," we do-- and on credit, of course. Celebrity and consumption are two sides of the same coin, and neither should be the purview of a President. Even if he didn't ask for celebrity, by accepting it he is following a dangerous narrative, one that allows the inclusion of this sentence in Entertainment Weekly, delivered with no irony whatsoever:
...but Obama was speaking to voters in a visual language they totally got: the celebrity-saturated shorthand of 21st-century consumerism.
Right. Here's $10. Keep the Change.
Left of left magazine Mother Jones attempted to make a similar point in "The Audacity of Hype?" the idea being that his hype is overwhelming (and detrimental.) But other progressives would not tolerate such questioning from their own ranks, despite the fact that both sides really were arguing that there was more to Obama than just hype. (1)
I'll admit that hype doesn't automatically mean there's no substance at all; it means that there is so much commotion it's hard to see what that substance is.
But it's hard to make the case that Obama isn't hype when his own supporters-- I think I can safely assume Entertainment Weekly counts among them-- try their best to make him into hype. This is a distraction; the result is that you don't know who he really is, and you are inevitably surprised when you find out.
I can see that the celebrity is a type of celebration, but there are consequences: it drives the 40% that didn't vote for him completely bananas. I don't mean "I hate the monkey fascist George Bush" bananas, either. People will disagree with me on this, but they're wrong-- this hype is more divisive than nearly anything George Bush has done.
Much of what Bush did conveyed the perception that he didn't care about your opinon, he answered only to himself and rubbed your nose in it. That made a lot of people hate him. The problem with these Obama covers and articles is that it is a whole half a nation saying, "in your face!" which makes people hate them.
Remember the flap about The New Yorker cover that showed Barack and Michelle in Taliban garb, doing the fist bump? That was irony, and it still made some liberals angry. But when you make this cover, with no irony at all
it makes people hate the people who voted for Obama. And if you do not believe this, then you are the one they hate.
The other problem with celebrity is it works only because it is lots of things to lots of people; it's rare to find a celebrity who is something all the time; those static celebrities we tire of quickly. Celebrity requires constant reinvention of oneself-- that's why most celebrities are actors or musicians. And yet, a constant refrain from exasperated celebrities: "but that's not really me!" Well, what did you expect when you posed for Entertainment Weekly?
It is still astonishing that a country with out history of slavery could elect a biracial man who identifies himself as African-American.Unlike Ms. Wurtzel, I'm not going to pretend to know what Obama is or is not; but I think it's axiomatic that how you choose to identify yourself has little to do with it. Things are, or things are not.
But not for so many who want him to be so many things. Unfortunately for them, eventually he'll have to be himself, and whatever that is, people will be surprised by it. And won't like it. Honeymoon's over: here's me pooping.
I earlier wondered how an Obama Presidency would alter race relations in the country, perhaps away from race as the dividing characteristic and towards class. I think I was wrong. That was an outrageously optimistic prediction made because I bought into the hype. What happens as unrealistic expectations are dashed?
Here's a prediction for you, put it in your calendar: within one year, people will be saying Obama isn't really black. Here, Leno, I'll even write the joke for you: "... American's first and only black President, Bill Clinton." Call me.
The hyping of the Obamyth has consequences for the next election as well. Republicans are likely to come out to vote in droves-- think Newt Gingrich in 1994. Liberals, if disappointed, probably won't vote Republican-- they're simply not going to vote at all. That means a Republican win by a larger margin.
If we're lucky, it'll play out calmly. But the divisiveness of the Celebration of The Obamyth is not to be underestimated, it is making a lot of people very angry, a lot of people who you hear almost nothing about at all-- it's as if they don't exist. But they're there, the new disenfranchised, even if Time Magazine tells you they aren't. They won't take up arms, surely, but neither do bees, and it's still probably best not to taunt them.
Meanwhile, the contradictory expectations of so many of his supporters will inevitably result in some groups feeling duped. Not disappointed. Duped. At minimum they pull away from the political process, at maximum they riot.
That seems unlikely to you? America's too big to fail? Spain had to put down some violent protests just last week. France is "a social bomb waiting to explode." And Greece was on fire a month ago. Are these third world puppet states?
It would be a mistake to think these riots happened because their leaders didn't get them what they wanted. That's only what made them angry. They became violent because they believed the system-- not Sarkozy or Zapatero or George W. Bush, but the system-- was not listening to them. If the already disenfranchised whom Obama collected under his umbrella later feel spurned or tricked-- look out.
Obama reportedly hopes to fashion himself after Abraham Lincoln. It would be worthwhile to emphasize that Lincoln's great accomplishment was not freeing the slaves or the Homestead Act but doing whatever it took to keep the republic together, at any cost-- even if it compromised some of his own particular beliefs.
Please, Mr. Obama, now that you've won the election, take my advice. If you get invited to the Oscars, politely decline. And if Vanity Fair wants to put you on the cover, the correct answer is no.
The other post: The Wrong Lessons Of Iraq