Obama’s Just Not That Fun
I have been in a genuine struggle over the past several months to put my finger on the reasons for my decreasing hope in Obama’s campaign. What is wrong with me? Am I just hopelessly hopeless? One friend dismissively suggested that I’m “just a system guy.” But, I don’t think that’s it. I don’t wear Che Guevara t-shirts and stockpile guns in my basement telling people to get ready for “The Revolution.” I don’t watch Fight Club wishing “real life” could be like it is in the movies. And my knee-jerk belief in the power of hippies, communes, folk songs, and peace festivals to change the world is about as fervent as my faith in the “Care Bear Stare” (which is not the same as saying that it is non-existent). So, what’s wrong with me? I think it has something to do with the fact that Obama’s political rhetoric sounds too much like the saccharine self-help sermonizing I wrote about in a previous blog post.
Andre Willis wrote about this foreboding aspect of Obama’s rhetoric on The Root.com back in March: “[Obama] mirrors the pluralistic temperament and contemporary appeal of best-selling author Rev. Joel Osteen, who preaches a “watered down” theological approach to spirituality sometimes referred to as Christianity-lite. He also echoes Oprah Winfrey, who promotes a popular and pluralistic “new-age” spiritual conception where Christian notions of charity are emphasized in a very public way. Because Obama’s method highlights the spiritual dimensions of human beings, it is ultimately a religious conception of democracy that is motivated by political interests… It remains to be seen if Senator Obama can engender the spiritual fortitude required to guide an obsessively forward-looking constituency through a history they so want to deny. If he cannot, his implicit appeal to religious types of change, belief and hope might dampen the possibility that America will ever move beyond its past.”
Last month’s issue of Esquire contains a provocative article which suggests Obama is, in fact, failing to “engender the spiritual fortitude” Willis hoped he would. Charles Pierce says that his skepticism stems from the fact that Obama is gaining votes on the cheap by telling a guilty and sinful people that deep down it is really a beautiful flower waiting to bloom. In offering “absolution without confession,” he’s preaching the prosperity gospel of politics: Forget about your laziness, xenophobia, short-tempered imprudence, profligate lifestyle, ill-founded self-confidence, ignorance with regard to history, geography, science, math, and every other subject you should have learned in school. You deserve to be well-liked, prosperous, and full of hope and joy. True, there have been moments of blunt honesty. His Philadelphia speech in response to the Rev. Wright controversy spoke many powerful and stark truths about race in America, but the tone remained largely self-congratulatory (one shared by many of Obama’s supporters) with regard to America’s “genius,” “achievement,” and “hope.” Maybe you can’t be prophetic and presidential, but does the rhetorical bar really need to be set at the level of Stuart Smalley: “You’re good enough; you’re smart enough; and doggone it, people like you!”
So, maybe my problem is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to put on that pale-blue sweater and look into the mirror of groundless self-affirmation that Obama keeps holding up to an America addicted to feeling good about itself. But it’s not all Obama’s fault. Obama certainly has the chops to deliver solid food to American voters. An article in today’s New York Times tells us, “As a [University of Chicago law] professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of complication, showing that even the best-reasoned rules have unintended consequences, that competing legal interests cannot always be resolved, that a rule that promotes justice in one case can be unfair in the next.” But when all the American people want to eat is candy, what’s a politician to do? Let them eat cake! As the Times reports, “Even some former students who are thrilled at Mr. Obama’s success wince when they hear him speaking like the politician he has so fully become. ‘When you hear him talking about issues, it’s at a level so much simpler than the one he’s capable of,’ [former student, Byron] Rodriguez said. ‘He was a lot more fun to listen to back then.’” I think that is my problem with Obama: He’s just not that fun anymore.