Posts from — November 2008
In case you hadn’t noticed, the transmutation from Cowboy Bush into “Kindler Gentler” Bush is underway. CNNPolitics.com has an interview with a contrite and – believe it or not – likable president where he admits regrets over “saying some things I shouldn’t have said:”
Hm. Who is this friendly fellow? Expect to see a lot of stories like this coming our way as January 20 approaches, as the media recasts the story of the Bush Disaster into “good guy, bad people”.
Of course the reality of the Bush Years is too dark to paint over with an “aw shucks” wink and nod. Because even as he plays it well – the man can portray a kind of charm when he wants – falling for this line ultimately belittles the enormous harm his administration has done to our country.
Most presidents go through positive reassessment. Take LBJ; hated left and right, he now gets credit for his attempted war on poverty and the great civil rights bills he pushed through a reluctant congress. Truman is another one: Derided as a simple-minded political hack during his time, perspective shows that he navigated the post-war period with a fair degree of wisdom and without personal political calculation. Rare indeed.
But this upward reflection doesn’t have to be standard practice. There have been really bad presidents who do not deserve such reassessment. 43 is all of that, and since I like to keep my posts brief I won’t spell it all out for you here. Instead, here’s a ready-made Google search for you. It’s got 1.1 million reasons why. Have at ‘em.
We really need to be careful before we turn the page on the last eight years, even as the media tries to convince us otherwise. This is history that must not be forgotten, otherwise it can be – and most likely will be – repeated.
It’s rare when you know with tangible certainty that you’re in the midst of an historical pivot point. What makes Obama’s astounding election so exquisitely wonderful is that – for once – this is a good and not a tragic event. Usually such milestones are terror-filled moments, like Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, or the one with which we can all relate, 9/11.
So this is special indeed.
It’s not Obama’s election alone that’s so pleasing. So many concepts that have stained our modern political era met their demise on November 4. I’m talking about ugly things like “Trickle-down Economics,” “Southern Strategy,” Identity Politics”, “Family values”, and those enraging – but effective – “soft on” taunts (soft on terror; on communism, on criminals, yadda yadda yadda). Just like that, those nasty attacks that helped elect some of the worst people to office for 60 years simply vanished into thin air, exploded.
And not a moment too soon.
OK, before I get carried away, it’s not Morning in America. We’ve still got ourselves some problems, and plenty of them. For all we know, President Obama might start “triangulating” his way to the center-right, taking with him all of this astonishing joy we found in his election, and breaking a few million hearts along the way.
I certainly hope not. And it doesn’t have to go down like that. There have been good presidents in American history who’ve done good things. No one can be all things to all people. But I think President Obama can do some good things. Maybe even some great things. For the first time in my adult life, I’m willing to gamble on American politics as an agent of social change. For friends who have known me for a long time, this might be a surprise. I’m surprised myself.
Either way, we can certainly revel in the final, long overdue demise of those tried-and-true McCarthy-Nixon-Atwater-Rove attack strategies, tactics which go all the way back to 1948, the Truman presidency, when the first “soft on communism” taunts were used to knock off the remaining New Dealers left in government. And those race-baiting, red-baiting, you-name-it-baiting methods have been used ever since to scare people into voting against their own interests. The old bait and switch. The hoodwink. The bamboozle.
For the first time in the modern era, such tactics are suddenly, wonderfully, out of gas. Dead on arrival. Why? Because a graceful, thoughtful, confident candidate chose to simply rise above the slander. He sidestepped the punches. They never landed. And it could be that they never will again. Partly we have the decentralized New Media to thank, the blogs which so effectively magnified the attacks and showed their implications, like McCain’s embarrassment when the old woman called Obama “an Arab”, or when they shouted “kill him” and “terrorist” at his rallies, or Palin self-destructing in front of Katie Kouric and the millions who watched it on YouTube. Think of it: We could have had George “Macaca” Allen as president-elect right now. The Fourth Estate may have re-emerged in 2008 as the Blogosphere.
And they helped the good guy win for a change. We’ll see what comes of it. But for now, it sure feels pretty damn good.
I voted for Barack Obama today. In truth I’m further to the left of Obama. Anyone who considers themselves a progressive, or who understands American labor history rolls their eyes when Obama is called a “radical leftist” or “socialist”. He’s anything but these things. If he were running in Canada or Western Europe he’d be a centrist, maybe even a conservative candidate.
But I voted for him anyway, and very happily so.
I’m under no illusions that a President Obama would pursue the progressive policies that are important to me. I don’t want any off-shore drilling, or even “some” nuclear power. I’m disturbed by the militarization of our culture. I think advertising to kids needs to be much less pervasive. The corporate influence over social policies is frightening. Meantime media concentration continues unabated, and our economic policies are so tilted to favor the top 1% that it’s become a joke.
Obama has been silent on these – and other – progressive causes. Truth is, no candidate promoting progressive ideas would win national office today. That’s because America is – by and large – a conservative country. I don’t mean “conservative” in the Milton Freedman, William F. Buckley, right-wing sense. I mean that – with a few historical exceptions aside – you just don’t see major changes in American culture take place over a short period of time. American social change is slow – sometimes painfully slow.
Even knowing this, I voted for Barack Obama anyway, because he’s a thoughtful, reflective, smart, refreshingly sincere candidate, in a way that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. He’s also run a flawless campaign, he clearly knows how to manage a large, national organization (the Democrats are running their best campaign in many years), and he strikes me as a man who will listen, contemplate and make carefully considered decisions. Considering the government we’ve had for the last eight years, these traits aren’t just refreshing, they may be vital.
And there’s one more thing. You can’t be aware of American history – which must be acknowledged as a history built on racism – without recognizing the remarkable reality that a majority of Americans appear willing to vote for a man based not on the color of his skin but rather – dare I say it – on the content of his character. There’s no reason to belittle this. It bodes well for us all.