I have an idea of what I'd be getting with an Obama victory, but it's not a very clear one. This process is supposed to be providing me with a clearer picture. At the very least, it should be giving me the clues necessary to assemble that picture. It isn't. It's giving me a Legend instead of a Candidate.
Now that Joe Biden is out of the race, I'm left to choose between Clinton, Edwards and Obama (assuming all three last until the exercise in formality/futility known as the Kansas primary occurs).
Clinton is a non-starter for me. I'd go into detail here, but I'd like to wrap this post up within two hours. I have my reasons and they are numerous. I could go over to the R guys. Yeah, right. Again, I don't have the space.
Edwards is the candidate I would've appreciated about fifteen years ago. That's when I was a little more keen on railing against concepts closely associated with the dreaded Man. Attacking corporations and assorted other devilish fat cats would've resonated with me. His fairly recently adopted "mad dog fighter who takes it personally" thing would've felt just right. I would've been keen on the divisiveness and the outrage. Fifteen years ago.
I'm older now. Hopefully smarter. That's probably why I was holding out a tiny bit of hope that the Biden campaign would be viable. I liked Joe because I appreciated the way he seemed to think things through. I liked the idea of a President who had a working knowledge of the people, systems, places and concepts that would be at the core of difficult decision making. He was far from perfect, but he seemed like the brightest option.
If Clinton reeks to me and Edwards' outlook and approach seems a little politically immature (not to mention counterproductive in a world where reason too often takes a backseat to partisanship), it's fairly obvious that I've become an Obama Man. Hell, his momma is even from my home state. Slam dunk, right?
Not really. And this is where this very long post really begins...
My first impression of Obama was positive. I started tracking him out the corner of my eye even before he gave his now-famous keynote address at the convention. By the way, I think that speech, though good, was wildly overrated. Right off the bat, I liked the guy. At that time, I liked him as a guy who'd be a nice addition to the Senate. The rock star thing wasn't happening for me.
Since then, I've seen the reactions. I've heard some pretty good oration. I've read both of his books. I've found something in the guy that I really do like. He combines a pretty keen wit with some over-arching beliefs with which I concur. He seems like a good guy who wants to elevate the quality and substance of American politics.
I can't really explain how much difference that makes to me. It's a big deal. That idea of breaking out of the normal bifurcative arrangement that dominates our politics is incredibly appealing. I am, if nothing else, a hater of bullshit. Our demented system of spin and lie makes me sick. Obama's apparent willingness to work on a different level--one governed by reason and sensibility--clicked with me.
That's when I started thinking a bit more seriously about the junior Senator. He was pitching a unique product and I was definitely buying.
Then something started to happen. Sucked into the vortex of a presidential run, the Obama message of a higher standard and a desire to apply real thinking to issues in place of R/D pre-fabricated frameworks started to wane. Instead, Obama and his supporters seemed a lot more interested in a few other concepts... Hope and Change.
Hey, I'm pro-hope. I'm pro-change (if it's good change). When Bill Clinton talked about a place called Hope in just the right way, it made at least one of my eyes a little misty. If you're advocating change from the current work-in-the-dark administration with its obvious fear of question and challenges, I'm backing change all the way.
The issue, however, is that I'm not really sure what kind of hope and change Obama is talking about any more. It's gone from a pretty well-explained approach to government that embraced core traditional democratic ideals and combined them with a willingness to build working non-partisan relationships in pursuit of effective action to being a rather amorphous mess of campaign ad material.
Obama has become less a candidate and more a symbol.
A high school kid named Ben Turner says:
"For me, Barack Obama is a symbol of what's to come, of an entire movement... Just like MLK [Martin Luther King Jr.] was a symbol for the civil rights movement, Barack Obama is a symbol of his movement."
Mychal Massey wrote an anti-Obama piece in which he stated:
"It is true that Obama is a symbol of the change Americans want in government. He is a symbol of that which Americans are tired of and now want changed."
Rosa Brooks of the LA Times argued:
"...Obama is a symbol of hope to Americans desperate for politics that transcend barriers of race, class and ethnicity."
A pro-Bill Richardson blog offered:
"Barack Obama is a symbol of re-birth and interconnectedness – a beautiful thing for a country desperate to prove that the rest of the world can believe in it again."
Obama is a symbol. He also offers hope.
What do I mean by that? I have no fucking idea. But let me tell you this. If you Google "Obama offers hope" (in quotation marks so you get exact matches), you'll find about 500 people saying it. OBAMA OFFERS HOPE.
Hope for what? Who the hell knows anymore?
Somewhere along the line, Obama stopped being a man and became a myth. He's no longer a junior Senator with a few ideas about improving government, a strong intellect, and leadership skills. He's a empty vessel of a messiah into which so many are pouring a lot of hopes and dreams. He's the blank slate upon which you can paint your own political wet dream in vibrant color.
I don't want to discount the importance of values and overall direction when making choices. Ben Sutherland, another local blogger, just posted a great piece about real strength as a nation and its connection to our most sacred values. I'm just a little bit more than a wee bit dissatisfied with those discussions occurring in only the most amorphous ways without a clear understanding of how a candidate plans on tap into their power. Hope, change, freedom, democracy, movement, progress... Sweet Baby Jesus in a Cadillac, folks, connect the dots between them and your actual plans for Social Security, Iraq, Issue X, Issue Y, etc!
I have an idea of what I'd be getting with an Obama victory, but it's not a very clear one. This process is supposed to be providing me with a clearer picture. At the very least, it should be giving me the clues necessary to assemble that picture. It isn't. It's giving me a Legend instead of a Candidate. It's giving me Hope and Change. I don't know if that's enough.
The funny thing is that the Clinton people aren't bright enough to figure this whole thing out. There's a real argument they could make about the empty vessel candidacy that whipped Hillary in Iowa, but they go after it with the ham-fistedness of a high school student council candidate.
They've almost tried with the "experience" argument. Talk about a limp proven loser of an argument... As a billion people have undoubtedly noticed, Obama isn't at a serious experience disadvantage in the real world.
In fact, the whole "nobody really knows shit about Obama" thing has somehow morphed into a positive. Lynn Sweet puts it like this:
"Obama's inexperience is being seen as less and less of a liability. He won't have a series of Senate votes to hold against him. He won't be caught in the Kerry trap of explaining why he was for something before he was against it. After more than a year in the Senate, Obama is not identified as the solo owner of an issue."
Clinton started to get a little closer after Iowa. On the night where we could all watch both parties embarrass themselves in New Hampshire, she started talking about the difference between wanting change and being able to produce change. Getting closer, Hillary, but not there yet.
And it won't ever really get there, because hammering those issues would require a certain kind of substantiveness that Hillary lacks. Meanwhile, Edwards could give a shit. He's got the auto-pilot on. He's full-bore Angry Lefty Populist until he finally loses. He's dialed into some weird course that either leads to a massive crash and burn or a win. (Odds favor crash and burn 2,500:1).
Meanwhile, the rock star thing keeps happening. There's no reason to see it stopping, either. The Blue State explains the way it will probably unfold, at least for awhile:
"Then there is Barack Obama. You can bet Republicans will go after his lack of experience. But when Obama responds by saying that Abraham Lincoln only had two years of Congressional experience before he ran for president, Americans will listen. They will pay attention to a youthful-looking, energetic man like Obama because he sounds genuine, and he can disagree on an issue without sounding disagreeable. He is a mainstream Democrat on just about every single issue -- as was John Kerry. But unlike the Massachusetts Senator, Obama is capable of winning elections because he knows how to make people listen."
I don't believe in voting on personality. I don't like voting for an Idea when I should be thinking about the bag of skin and brain to which the Idea is attached. I don't like joining cults of personality and I get sick and fucking tired of hearing people talk incessantly about Obama's ability to inspire and motivate when no one is thinking too hard about what in the hell he'd inspire or motivate anyone to do.
At the same time, you can't fault a dude for being popular. I'm left in a rather uncomfortable situation, to tell you the truth. I've liked the real things I've heard from Obama, for the most part. When he does talk about issues outside of orator/inspirer mode, I tend to think he's on-track. I just wish I could hear more of that. I wish I could see more of the seemingly bright and considerate author of those two books.
I might be an exception to the rule among the electorate, but I think I might like that Obama more than I like SUPERSTAR OBAMA. I'm not sure, though, because we're in a campaign and he's riding a super-swell of popularity that has little to do with him and everything to do with what he's believed to represent.
I guess I'm in the Obama camp. I'm just not necessarily comfortable there.
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