Been waiting to post this post since jimmy sent me a link last week. unfortunately, i had just imposed a ban on myself re: presidential ranting. Well, it’s a new week, and we’re going to do a bit more ranting before the old year is through.
In an articulate argument in the most recent issue of the atlantic, andrew sullivan lays out a compelling, earnest rationale for the Obama candidacy. It gets exultant, at times:
Yes, as the many profiles prove, he has considerable intelligence and not a little guile. But so do others, not least his formidably polished and practiced opponent Senator Hillary Clinton.
Obama, moreover, is no saint. He has flaws and tics: Often tired, sometimes crabby, intermittently solipsistic, he’s a surprisingly uneven campaigner.
A soaring rhetorical flourish one day is undercut by a lackluster debate performance the next. He is certainly not without self-regard. He has more experience in public life than his opponents want to acknowledge, but he has not spent much time in Washington and has never run a business. His lean physique, close-cropped hair, and stick-out ears can give the impression of a slightly pushy undergraduate. You can see why many of his friends and admirers have urged him to wait his turn. He could be president in five or nine years’ time—why the rush? But he knows, and privately acknowledges, that the fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now.
More than the leader of a people or a program, Obama is “an idea whose time has come?” Is that enough, leftists?
Maybe. I don’t think I’m experienced enough to answer that question. But I can tell you that I am also optimistic, if more cautiously so. Let me explain why, though; and simultaneously question my explanation; and end up asking you a question.
I like that Obama is a non-Boomer, for all sorts of seemingly “apolitical,” or maybe even “cultural” reasons. I appreciate his background in community organizing, and I respect his ability to speak to (not for) class/race identities and issues that are usually barred from mainstream political discourse. Oh and as I’ve said, his very Habermasian willingness to engage in aggressive diplomacy and to communicate with our enemies is really satisfying. It smacks of the organizing model, to me.
But, of course, a lot of things are pretty mainstream and/or frustrating about Obama’s cv. The whole Constitutional Law, University of Chicago bit is pretty rarified, if in a good way. More troublingly, there’s the issue of his prolonged plan for getting us out of Iraq. And there’s more documentable Obama weirdness re: gay marriage, social security, NAFTA, teachers’ unions, etc.
Nevertheless, so many of us self-styled brainiacs – particularly those of us coming out of the ivory tower – have received Obama with almost-totally-open-arms….why? I’ve outlined the reasons I’m optimistic, but…why am I willing… no, why are we willing to take a leap of faith for this guy?
Is it just that he’s young, he’s not Hillary and he maybe has a chance of winning? What is it? Somebody explain myself to me? Why, when his rhetoric falls so short of the (genuine and/or disingenuous) lefty hectoring of Kucinich and Edwards? Why do we expect him to be better than his rhetoric? Are we falling victim to this old trick, again:
A friend of mine characterizes this as the “we’ll come back for you” politics, the claim that they can’t champion anything you want because they have to conciliate your enemies right now to get elected, but that, once they win, they’ll be able to attend to the progressive agenda they have to reject now in order to win. This worked out so well with the Clinton Presidency, didn’t it? Remember his argument that he had to sign the hideous 1996 welfare reform bill to be able to come back and “fix” it later? Or NAFTA? Or two repressive and racist crime bills that flooded the prisons? Or the privatizing of Sallie Mae, which set the stage for the student debt crisis? Or ending the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of housing for the poor?
I’m not really asking if we’re falling for this so much as asking why we’re falling for it so willingly.