Maybe it had to be Obama
Call me a flip-flopper, but it occurs to me that I’ve come a very long way on Barack Obama. At first, I was deeply suspicious of the wisdom of his candidacy. Then I was undecided. Finally, I became a supporter.
But “finally becoming a supporter” actually wasn’t the “final” step of my transformation: I’ve also gradually become convinced that Obama isn’t just the best available candidate. He’s something more.
I don’t believe in fate. I’m really more of a dumb luck man. In fact, about the only good thing I can say about George W. Bush is that his life’s “successes” provide incontrovertible proof of the transcendent power of dumb luck (and cronyism).
Or is there still someone left in the greater Milky Way galaxy prepared to claim that Bush’s rise was a product of a meritocracy?
Still, looking back, I find it hard to shake the sense that there was something, if not inevitable, at least necessary, about Barack Obama’s success. It has to do, I suppose, with this country’s desperate need for a new generation of progressive activism. And it’s also about the inspiration that may help to bring that into being.
Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has doubtlessly inspired many young women, but her generally huge lead among white women is significantly lower within the young college-educated demographic (the demographic that tends to produce most political leaders). And all of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s impressive talents notwithstanding, at the end of the day they remain DLC poll-driven pragmatists — hardly the folks likely to inspire a new wave of public-spirited political activism. That just isn’t what they’re about.
In retrospect, I wonder if even my own personal political heartthrob, Al Gore, could have pulled it off. Without a doubt, he has all the makings of a great president (as does Hillary), but it’s hard to see him generating anything close to the kind of excitement Obama has among the young.
Progressive change is hard stuff. It can mean working your ass off — or at least paying a few bucks more in taxes — in furtherance of the public interest, instead of one’s personal concerns.
There’s no question, at least in my mind, that Americans possess the necessary generosity of spirit; we’ve seen it at work in years past and it remains on display in many ways today. But to take this undeniable touch of human nobility and turn it into concerted action requires something more — it takes the spark of inspiration.
To be sure, this spark hasn’t always come packed with Obama’s charisma. Adlai Stevenson, urbane and witty, was badly beaten twice by Dwight Eisenhower. But Stevenson left behind a powerful political legacy — one a far more politically successful Bill Clinton could only dream of — bringing a new generation of smart young liberals into public service. Many of the top people in John Kennedy’s administration were originally attracted to political life by Stevenson.
Inspirational himself, and charismatic in a way Stevenson never was, Kennedy, in turn, attracted another generation of liberals to public service, including a young man from Hope, Arkansas, named Bill Clinton.
The Democratic Party has been blessed with an abundance of good candidates this cycle, most or all of whom would probably have won in November and served the nation well in office. The tragedy, however, is that winning this one election probably won’t be enough to do what needs to be done after the last seven plus years of misrule. Putting America right — rebuilding a fair middle class society, addressing potentially catastrophic environmental issues, improving America’s dismal reputation in the world and so much more — will take more than one good president. It will take a committed generation.
And if we’re serious about trying to create this kind of new progressive majority, inspiration will be one of the essential elements. And for today’s youth, much of that inspiration is coming in the person of Barack Obama.
Maybe, when all’s said and done, even given his undeniable imperfections, it had to be Obama.
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May 28th, 2008 at 12:28 pm
And speaking of dismal reputations, when did appeasement become a bad word?
I’ve been under impression for 6o or 100 years that it was a good to allay anger and alleviated distrust and to work to reconcile differences.
May 28th, 2008 at 1:11 pm
Well put, Steve. The inspiration, the excitement and the new interest by millions is why I support Obama. The young people who are so passionate about him need guidance, however, to use that enthusiasm wisely and to retain their commitment through the fall and beyond. Like you said, the damage bush and his co-conspirators have done will take a generation to repair.
May 28th, 2008 at 2:14 pm
Steve, I am truly hopeful for the first time in my adult life. I’m too old to fully understand it, but when I see my own daughter, and young people who will inherit some of the worst and scariest challenges since imminent nuclear holocaust–when i see these kids chanting YES WE CAN, i really do feel hopeful that we all really can accomplish what must be done to ensure the survival of the human race on this little blue marble in space.
It’s about the internet and networking, of which i only understand a drop in the bucket. It’s about a generation or two who have decided the whole personal ambition gig is not only a waste of time, but actually detrimental to the greater good. these kids are so very open-minded and lacking in the prejudices people my age have struggled to suppress– they are less burdened by the past and therefore more capable of not merely expecting but enacting unity.
It is the right time and the right place in history for this movement. Hopefully 4-8 years in the White House is part of this picture, but as you said, the movement will continue to spread ripples no matter what. And I feel blessed to be a witness.
May 28th, 2008 at 8:02 pm
Ask senators Obama, Clinton and McCain if they would be willing to ban the use of cluster bombs.
What a sick country this has become when we won’t even go to the conference.
May 29th, 2008 at 1:08 am
It’s still not the “final” step of the transformation: after a couple years of President Obama, his supporters will be disappointed that he has changed the status quo far less than they hoped he would. (Actually, with the increasing economic collapse and riots and wars and climate change and famine and so on, people might look back on the “status quo” of today as the good old days!) The higher the hopes for change, the greater the disappointment. Many of his supporters then may drop out of political interest altogether, thinking that all politicians, even the best, suck, so there’s no point in caring. But some of them might move to the left and start to really work on changing the status quo themselves because none of the candibots will ever do it for them. That prospect is the REAL hope for change. But it can’t happen until enough people go through the “disappointment” with the system step, and that in turn can’t happen unless Obama becomes President and so people will see that even the best the system can do ain’t nearly good enough. (If McCain becomes President, progressives will still be able to say, “Yes, it still sucks, but it wouldn’t if Obama had won!”) So Obama has to become President, even though his slogan for noncosmetic change might as well be, “Far too little, far too late.”
May 29th, 2008 at 7:05 am
Good point Chuck, but as long as our good old partners in crime, the British, continue the use of cluster bombs, we wont’ feel any need to join the rest of the world in banning their use. In fact, I’ll bet most Americans don’t know or don’t even care what a cluster bomb is. They know there is corruption but don’t know the depth of it. They know they were lied to but don’t really grasp why. They don’t even realize that the ignorance that gives them comfort is the very cause of their discomfort. If impeachment hearings were convened, people would lose that sense of helplessness and begin to sense their own power. Pelosi won’t allow that but it would be the best chance for Americans to regain their own sense of what it is to be an American. The home of the brave would once again have meaning. This time not through blind allegiance but through liberty and justice for all. The face America presents to the world is that of a man without honor, who shares none of the values most of us hold dear, a man of violence and selfishness and ignorance.
The best way to raise the hopes and restore the faith of Americans is to kick this guy to the curb now, before he starts another war or steals any more of our public trust and money. I know. won’t happen.
We are left to hope that Obama can begin a trend that will bring light and truth to government and that our kids will continue that trend. And I hope, God knows, I hope, always.
May 29th, 2008 at 7:33 am
Hey Chuck, I just read that the Brits are going to ban cluster bombs and encourage the US to do the same. Good news.
May 29th, 2008 at 9:24 am
The U.S., Israel, Russia, China, & Pakistan will not outlaw the use of cluster bombs. What a fine gang to be a member of. Just because they kill many, many, many, innocent people, especially children and farmers, for many, many, years after they have been dropped, is no reason to not use them I guess.
It may sound like I’m bitter, but I am.
May 29th, 2008 at 5:59 pm
Chuck: Cluster Bombs and Landmines. Why the hell are we on the wrong side of these atrocities? Never understood the Princess Di phenomenon, but I really respected her work against the use of land mines. And purportedly, the cluster bomb fragments look like wrapped candy to little kids. Nothing good can come from that scenario, yet I’ve heard a “justification” that the use of such maiming weaponry keeps more adults off the battlefield because of the need to care for the maimed. Sinisterly sick and depraved.
Alwayshope: Cindy Sheehan is challenging Pelosi in San Fran. Can you imagine the Peace Mom in the Congress? Not in the back of the hall, protesting, but actually filibustering, on issues such as Cluster Bombs?
And hello to RJHall: Don’t know if I’ve seen you in the Cafe before.
Welcome (back). You sound like the right kind of cynical to enjoy reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I do NOT recommend this novel to anyone with young kids, or the type of imagination that will keep you awake at night reliving the scariest narration over and over, but if you are made of tougher stuff than i am–go for it. I think Ted Turner must have read it, hence his comments about the future where everyone will be cannibals. Super bleak post apocalyptic nightmare, and yet so very beautifully written. And at least a somewhat happy ending. If you do read it, let us know what you think.
Gotta go–Scott McClellan is about to be interviewed by the belovedly bombastic Keith Olbermann.
May 29th, 2008 at 11:15 pm
I’ve read 4 of his books including this one, but to tell the truth I just don’t have the stomach to do his “No Place For Old men”. He can be so cynical in a sort of truthy way that some images last forever.
May 30th, 2008 at 1:06 pm
I saw the film, because I can’t stand to miss anything from the Coen Brothers, but it was quite dark. Don’t think I’ll be reading the novel. What did you think of The Road? If they get any darker than that one, I will not be reading.
May 30th, 2008 at 2:14 pm
They are all dark. I don’t watch movies or television anymore, but my own imagination takes over when I read. Reading “The Road” I just kept thinking of myself sleeping in an abandoned gas station in the middle of nowhere, or my brother, or anyone else just waiting to die but can’t quite do that either. The book does remind me a bit of Peter Mathiessen’s “Killing Mister Watson”.
May 31st, 2008 at 8:15 pm
Never read Killing Mister Watson, but I devoured At Play in the Fields of the Lord. Think I’ll stick with Sci-fi though because when it gets too scary, I can tell myself it is mostly make-believe.