Some people are a little dubious about the, what shall I say, the emotionality surrounding the recent transition of power in the US. Our friend KB Player for instance.
Eyes fixed on the horizon? And with the inspirational statesman look? That was pseudo poetic bombast. As an outsider, I felt faintly embarrassed, and thought that a quick cup of tea with the Queen, a few words in front of Downing Street while the old incumbent leaves by the back door carrying a suitcase, that’s the way to do it. Democracy is a good thing, but it doesn’t need to be turned into a religion.
Some doubt was expressed in comments at Talking Philosophy but we ended up in more or less the same place. Anyway I asked myself (and not for the first time, being a suspicious type, and also being aware that since I make a habit of puncturing sentimentalities and pieties I sort of have to be cautious with my own) if I should be more skeptical. Am I making a messiah out of Obama?
That’s certainly possible, for obvious reasons – I really do admire him, to a very unusual and intense degree. I’m not accustomed to admiring public figures (much less presidents) in this way, in fact to be perfectly honest I have no precedent at all for my attitude to Obama. That is almost a guarantee of a susceptibility to mistakes and blindness.
I’m not so deluded that I think his plans for health care are any good though. Maybe I’ll use that as a meter – I’ll just keep checking myself – ‘Do you think “affordable health care” is meaningful or possible? No? Good; still functioning.’ I wish he hadn’t invited Rick Warren to do the invocation…but on the other hand, Michelle Goldberg pointed out that the outrage about Warren’s homophobia has caused him to remove some of the concrete signs of it, so perhaps the invitation has forced him to do better.
Ah, the hell with it, it’s not worth it; I still think Obama shouldn’t have invited him.
I wish we could ditch all the God-talk. I’m very glad he included non-believers, but I still wish we could ditch the God talk. But…(this is where things get really sinister) I don’t mind it as much as I would from someone else, or as much as I did from Bush or Clinton. Have I lost my mind? Partly, maybe – that is, the euphoria of the whole thing motivates me to bury my normal reaction so that I can go on being euphoric. That’s not what you’d call sound intellectual practice – so that’s a fair cop. I’m giving Obama a break that I wouldn’t give other people. (Fortunately, it makes no difference to him or to them – I don’t want to come over all self-important here! I’m just exploring how this stuff works, from the inside; I’m not saying What I Think Matters.) But some of that is because the God talk trails with it the old civil rightsy rhetoric. I wouldn’t want to be without The Promised Land or All God’s Children or (perhaps least of all) ‘Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.’ That’s in spite of the fact that in any other context that line would irritate the hell out of me, because stricly speaking it’s absurd – thanking god for freedom and just politely ignoring the previous four centuries. In any other context I would rudely ask why god gets the credit for the good stuff and none of the blame for the bad stuff; I would ask why, if god could free the slaves, god didn’t just prevent them from being enslaved in the first place. But – in the civil rights context, I don’t. If I had the choice, I would keep all the presidential language secular, but since I don’t…I feel inclined to turn a blind eye. That’s a double standard. Nolo contendere.
Now we’ve got that out of the way…well it’s the old Wordsworth line, you know, bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. Yes I know it’s soppy, but I do not care – I want to be soppy. I’ve never seen anything like this. None of us have. You don’t know what it’s like (well you do if you live here and it’s affected you too, but otherwise, you don’t) – you don’t know what it’s like to have all but everyone in the damn country feeling ecstatic and elevated and (cough) well I don’t know how else to put this, kind of united.
I can even explain one reason, one of many. For eight years we’ve lived with the unhappy awareness that everyone outside the US thinks of it as Bush country – with a few dissenters perhaps but at its core, Bush-like. Now it becomes apparent that the US is much more Obama country than it ever was Bush country.
Another reason is that the bliss (to call it that) was unalloyed by compromise. This was not hooray the firstblackpresident who is not otherwise so terrific – this was not (for instance) Al Sharpton. There was absolutely no need to think ‘well this is a great First but we had to compromise to get it…’ – so one could wallow with a clear conscience. Obama is a lot more talented than the usual white pol, not less so, so the First is more than legitimate.
And perhaps best of all – I have earnest hopes that the fashion for falling-down prison pants will die an abrupt death.