Column for 11 January, 2009

Barak Obama: Everyman


“There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”

                                                                                                            –Proverbs 21:18


In a few days, a man will place his hand on the Bible and swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States to the best of his ability.  Unlike the forty-two men who came before him however, Barack Obama is not white.  Only once before in the history of the Republic has a non-white held national office, when Charles Curtis, a Kaw Indian, served as Herbert Hoover’s vice president.  During the campaign, it became clear that Obama has an almost Zelig-like ability to simultaneously be all things to all people.  To many younger Americans of color, he is by the very nature of his bi-racial existence, a transformative figure, a symbol of post-racial America.  This is especially profound in light of massive demographic changes in this country that will eventually lead, for the first time in 300 years, to a non-white majority (currently, about 68% of the population is white).  For most of American history, “American history” meant almost exclusively “white history.”  In this narrative, North America sprang into existence in 1492, Westward Expansion was a noble cause spreading civilization into the wilderness, and the Civil War was about obscure 19th Century economic policy and State’s Rights.  Some, though certainly not all or even most white people feel incredibly threatened by this slow transmogrification, as witnessed by the rise of paranoia over the “invasion” of illegal aliens.  Always on the cutting edge, the Republican Party seems determined to ride this anxiety into even deeper obscurity, with a candidate for chair of the RNC distributing the vile Rush Limbaugh inspired ditty “Barack the Magic Negro” and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (who, God help me, sounds exactly like Goofy every time he opens his mouth) has announced that he will once again champion a “Voter ID” bill despite there being absolutely no evidence whatsoever of massive vote fraud.  All of George W. Bush’s admirable work in wooing Hispanic voters to the GOP is being frittered away by these idiots pandering to the lowest common nativist denominator.  On the other side, to liberals, Obama’s solid victory represents an overwhelming repudiation of the Right Wing philosophy that has dominated politics for nearly the last forty years.  Already, however, some liberals are waking up to the realization that Obama is far more pragmatic and center-left than they hoped and Republicans feared.  But here too the Republicans are bound and determined to shoot themselves in the foot, urging caution and restraint on an economic stimulus for working families when many couldn’t vote fast enough for Henry Paulson’s massive, unmonitored Wall Street welfare bill, claiming the country risked a Mad Max-style collapse unless it was passed immediately and without fail.  Almost before all the votes had been counted, some Liberals (particularly in the blogosphere) were already prepared to write-off Obama as some sort of warmed-over rehash of George W. Bush.  Let Mitch McConnell filibuster the stimulus package; he’ll hand the Democrats a veto-proof majority by 2010 on a silver platter.  And, as I predicted, the exact same Republicans (i.e. John Yoo) who forcefully argued that George W. Bush was the constitutional equivalent of an absolute monarch are now arguing just as strongly in favor of limiting executive authority.  Hypocrisy, it’s what’s for dinner.  In my view, Obama’s transition operation has been as tight and efficient as his brilliantly run (though occasionally tone-deaf to the feelings of Hillary Clinton supporters) campaign.  When he says he wants a Lincoln-esque “Team of Rivals,” I am prepared to take him at his word, especially given that he has stated more than once that his greatest fear as president is being cut off and insulated, surrounded by yes-men.  He seems ready to govern in a competitive style like John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, encouraging disparate viewpoints but holding the ultimate decision-making power in his hands.  That’s not a bad choice of role-models under the circumstances and would be a welcome change from the secretive, hierarchical group-think of the last eight years.  On January 20, Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States.  The great adventure of American history continues.

Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 8:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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