Monday, December 13, 2010

Should We Blame Obama?

I wish President Obama actually were the fire-breathing socialist that Fox News and others on the right seem to think he is.  I suspect I will never see a US President as liberal as even most European conservative politicians, much less one with the radical socialist cojones of a South American president.  But in good conscience I cannot blame Obama for not being what he never claimed to be in the first place.  While campaigning he exhibited distressing signs of lukewarmness on hot-button issues (such as, for instance, gays) and, shortly after his inauguration, even more distressing signs of sympathizing with George W. Bush and his administration.  I voted for him twice--the primary and the election--on the basis that he seemed to be a man of intelligence and compassion, but, even then I would have had to admit, not much of a man of character.  Still, his two out of three beat his competition--and they still do.

So, no, I don't expect that the torture of detainees has stopped.  And I won't be surprised if America finds good reason (quite possibly many reasons, all too complicated to explain) to go to war with Iran.  And the fundamental Christianity of American democracy will be affirmed for many years to come, directly and indirectly.  And I would laugh in your face if you were to ask me whether Bush and his cohorts would ever be charged with war crimes.  And I would be genuinely surprised if we do not give trickle-down economics another nine or ten tries before giving up on it--if giving up on it is ever something we will do.

Like most politicians, especially Democratic ones, Obama likes to be liked and likes things to stay nice and calm and quiet.  Despite the wording of the title of one of his books, he lacks much of a stomach for "audacity," which means "fearless daring."  Besides, I am fairly sure he was being ironic when he chose the word.  I suspect he follows his approval ratings with the same anxious eagerness with which grade-grubbing students tally up their weighted averages from week to week.  Despite his reputation, on the right and on the left, he is not much of an idealist--he can say the words "hope" and "change," but then so can Sarah Palin.  They are distinctively American (and, more precisely, American political) words.  (I suspect "hope" and "change" were on the lips of the white settlers who drove the darker skinned natives onto reservations, too--what was "manifest destiny," if not a cry for hope and change?)

Obama is a great American politician.  He has (still has) the potential of being a great American, as well, but that remains to be seen.  He is being blamed for things that are not his fault: the Middle Eastern wars, which, once gotten into, were never going to be easy to get out of, not with a century of bad blood between the Arab nations and the United States, and it's certainly not Obama's fault that the US government (legislative, judicial, and executive branches, inclusive) became (with its twin sister, the mass media) the handmaid of Wall Street, banks, insurance companies, and other speculators.  President Eisenhower was warning us all about the military-industrial complex back when I was in second grade, and this complex was then already about eighty years old.  The things the right wing has blamed Obama for are equally unfair and shortsighted.  The economy has been tumbling in spurts for the past 120 years, most notably during the 1930s and, again, in the past twelve, and we have probably not seen the end of the decline, so that Republicans will indeed be able to say in 2012 and perhaps again in 2016, with some accuracy, that Obama has presided over America at its economic worst.  

For a while now I have felt that America is unsaveable.  Sorry for the negativism, folks.  I have never been much good at holding up my end of the optimism banner.  If it were just a matter that our leaders and our political system were corrupt, if only that, I might hold some hope ("hope" for "change"), but the problem is deeper--we are a corrupt culture, worse than corrupt:  silly, unserious, greedy, self-centered, hypocritical, shallow, cruel, obsessive-compulsive, repressed, divisive, ignorant (even worse, willfully ignorant), sentimental, vain, obsequious, fearful, impatient, dishonest, and tacky.  No President can change that state of things, even if we gave him eighteen terms in office.  

So I did not vote for Obama because I expected him to be our savior.  I stopped believing in saviors long ago.  I voted for him because he seemed like the kind of sensible and intelligent politician who could restore the American people's face in the world--and this much he has done, not that I think we actually deserve other nations' respect, but it is nice to have.  I believed that he could be the best President of my lifetime--and he may well be (such is the low esteem with which I hold other Presidents, perhaps, but I don't say this just to be smug).  

And I voted for him because I like the way he talks, I like the way he makes me feel when he talks, and I like that he has some wit about him.  He stirs my emotions--less so lately, but still--though he has never stirred me on any deeper level than my emotions.  He has not, for instance, stirred my desire to be a better person than I already am, and he has not stirred my sense of justice, equality, liberty, and life itself.  He may just be entertainment--good for laughs and tears and a few goosebumps--but he is quality entertainment, and right now, though that is certainly not enough, given the state of things, it is better than what our other options are.


  1. I am moved by your bit about how the problem isn't corruption in the conventional sense, but rather a corruption of our culture--a corruption of what we want and are and believe and choose as Americans. Have you heard of Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace?

  2. KC: I have. I read Infinite Jest when it was first published, enthusiastic that somebody was still writing fiction that was self-consciously "important"--and then I devoured Wallace's previous works. Wallace knew his subject: a nation in perpetual childhood, both doltish and high-strung.



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