We knew it had to happen, but we might have hoped it would not happen quite so soon. Barack Obama, the vessel into which so many progressives have poured our own dreams of virtue, is gone. Obama the politician, the real Obama, the one who was actually always there, stands before us now, unencumbered by our illusions.
He’s still the hope of a generation: just not as great or pure a hope as we might have wanted.
I’m disappointed, of course, by Senator Obama’s decision to support the so-called FISA compromise (more accurately described as the FISA craven surrender), but I can’t say that I’m that surprised. This is the Obama of The Audacity of Hope, as opposed to the Obama of Dreams from my Father: the Obama with his eyes well fixed on the prize.
As I said a little over a year ago, in response to reading The Audacity of Hope:
I had an ulterior motive for wanting to read Obama’s book. It wasn’t the fact that many reviewers have said, very unlike most books by politicians, this one is beautifully written (and it is). No, I tore into The Audacity of Hope not so much in search of a good read, but in search of the real Barack Obama.
I want him to be as good as he looks. I want him to be the inspirational leader we need to take us into tomorrow (hell, to catch up with today, for that matter). But the truth is I don’t know him very well. Beyond the pretty face and the pretty words much of the man remains a gaping mystery. So I went looking for him.
But I don’t think I found him in his book. What I found, instead, is a beautiful, but also very carefully crafted, persona: I found the person Obama wants us to believe he is. As to whether he really is that person though, this book gives me not a clue.
Why do I say this? There’s just something far too convenient in where he draws the lines for his deeply felt beliefs. He thinks (correctly) that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime and is dangerously flawed . . . yet (there are an awful lot of yets with Obama) he still thinks it’s appropriate for society to execute the really, really bad murderers as opposed, I guess, to the only sort of bad murderers. Being the unquestionably brilliant man he is, Obama must know this is a distinction without meaning, and utterly beyond definition.
But given the public’s view on capital punishment, it is a convenient one to draw. This convenience of belief recurs often, troublingly so.
And no, of course, this makes him no worse than any other politician. But you see, I was hoping for something better than no worse.
There is also an unmistakable element of intellectual dishonesty in how Obama tries to paint his self-portrait as the sensible man in the middle — as the one reasonable soul in an ocean of partisan fanatics. He often commits the sin of false equivalency. Yes, conservatives are bad about this, he will say, but then he will always quickly add that liberals are equally bad about that. But the truth, of course, is that usually they aren’t. How could they be? As of the time he wrote the book, liberalism had been all but politically powerless for over a decade.
I’m far from giving Obama a thumbs down. I’m still very intrigued — still very hopeful.
But I’m not sold. Not yet.
I eventually settled on supporting Obama, of course, and it’s a decision I don’t regret. But I did it with my eyes open. I believe he has it in him to be a great president, perhaps even a transformative one, but he’s a politician not a savior.
He’s a politician who today sold out the Bill of Rights — if to only a limited degree — for a few votes.
That’s a tough pill to swallow, although swallow it we must and will. That’s the thing about democracy: all the fancy words notwithstanding, in the end things usually come down, at least in some sense, to a contest between what’s ugly and what’s uglier. And the choice between the two can make all the difference in the world.
Santa Claus is dead! Long live the politician!