Okay, here we go. I’m actually going to try and keep this brief.
I voted for Barack Obama in the California primary and I will for him again in the general election (barring anything crazy happening so that he wouldn’t get the nom).
I’ve liked Obama since his emergence on the national scene in 2004. What’s nice is that the public identity he established in those initial moments is still the public identity he has mid-election (which is rare). So many politicians have to mold themselves into the pinnacle of moderacy in the name of elect-ability and sometimes even downplay their strengths (Hillary for example). Instead, Obama has actually been able to create a rallying point around his political identity. What’s even better is that I geniunely believe Obama’s political identity is centered around his real-life personality. Once again, rare.
I’ve written about this at length, but Obama/Clinton supporters can’t really argue about policy between their candidates. There are minor differences (that are important) but they’re so collectively similar on this front that it has become an election of semantics. Because of this, I recognize the fact that many people are drawn to Obama in a largely symbolic syntax. To wit: “Only in America is my story possible”. CHANGE. Yes We Can. A truly new administration and a truly new direction for the country. Instead of 20 years of bush/Clinton/bush/Clinton, we’re moving into the 21st century. The first African-American president. He grew up all over the world. He’s got new ideas on how to handle “the Muslim world”. Yada, Yada, Yada.
This all very wishy-washy stuff. He’s been a senator for 4 years and will have spent 2 of those years campaigning. There isn’t exactly a large breadth of experience he can run on. So basically all he can go on is his identity, image, and promise of change.
The question then becomes, do you trust him and do you think identity is enough? Well, he is a politician and all… that always makes things difficult. But people are buying into him for a reason. He is a fantastic public speaker and historically there is large significance to that. Our most popular presidents have always been great communicators (not a nod to Reagan). There’s also something very powerful about the nature of promise when a progressive leader strikes a chord with a majority. Then you’re entering what I like to call “JFK” territory; the kind of territory where the aura itself actually has an impact. Obama isn’t there yet (not by a long shot) but politically I’m someone who fully recognizes the power of “the promise”.
The worst part of all of this is that it seems to boil down to “I like the guy”… which is awful. Just awful. It’s the kind of thinking that might have given us Bush II. But it all point to a bigger indicator for the national pulse; that there is actually something to the symbolism. The concept of “president as posterboy” is usually used as the butt of a joke, but I actually maintain that it’s strangely powerful. We love the person who stands as the model of decency and goodness. Can the president just be the ultimate role model? It’s just we often disagree on the definition of decency. Bush was endeared to his supporters because of his faith and essence. While I thought he might be the most misguided person on the planet, many of the religious right think he was a terrific president (regular old conservatives? not so much anymore). But there is a reason that the American voter respects The Posterboy… and it’s not because they’re stupid.
It’s because no matter how cynical you get. No matter how corrupt politics is. No matter how much we learn nothing really changes. No matter how much I really wonder if anything needs to change at all. No matter how disappointed I’ve been with the democratic party to the point where I’ve voted Green, yikes… There’s a part of us that wants to believe in someone who can cut through the bullshit, be themselves, be a voice of the people, and turn the country in the right direction.
So I’m going to believe in Obama.
… I’m also going to hold him to it.