Reserving the Right to Declare my Boner

[N.B. For those of you offended by the title of this post, I apologize. I simply could not resist the double entendre]

Yesterday’s election finally proved the cynics and naysayers wrong. The defeatism evident in the public statements of men like Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt was shown to be premature, as Americans collectively proved that they are still as susceptible as ever to overblown rhetoric and political posturing. Obama supporters are elated, and they have every right to be: their candidate for president won an historic victory and won decisively. Like many people, I was overwhelmed by the announcement and have cried several times, most recently when watching Sherri Shepherd talk about what the election meant to her on The View (I’m pleased to announce she is no longer a flat-earther). McCain supporters are incensed that their hero has lost yet again and must return to Washington with his head held high despite a debilitating defeat. But supporters of both candidates should recognize that for the past twenty-two months strategists, handlers, and politicians have been attempting to manipulate their affects and their beliefs. They should be furious, but they should direct their collective anger constructively.

If you volunteered/voted for Obama, you undoubtedly are suffused with pride, which seems to be the general tone of many of the postings I saw on facebook throughout the day. If you volunteered/voted for McCain, you have undoubtedly uttered some iteration of the America is doomed meme—“Americans deserve what they get!” “Get ready to shell out more of your hard-earned money!” “Welcome back to the welfare state.” Both sides need to take a collective breath and be more circumspect in their speech. Elections are always a depressing time for me. I am saddened by the defeatism of those who allege they voted for the lesser of two evils. But I am even more concerned by the naiveté of those who profess dogmatic faith in the infallibility of their respective candidate. (Senators McCain and Obama have both admitted to being imperfect human beings. Why should we not take them at their word?)

When a friend asked (via a surrogate) whom I would be voting for in the election, he was disappointed when he eventually heard I was supporting a major party candidate. In defense of my decision, I pointed out that my candidate clearly had the edge when it came to rhetoric, stage presence, and political savvy, which became one of the deciding factors for me this election. Many of you will undoubtedly accuse me of being flippant, if not utterly moronic, for basing such an important decision on aesthetics, but when all is said and done, the only metric we have for measuring what kind of President someone will be is his or her campaign.

We must, however, not lose site of the seductive power of presidential campaigns, particularly world-historic ones like the one we witnessed yesterday. Barack Obama is not a J.F.K., a F.D.R., or even a Teddy Roosevelt, nor is he a Lincoln or a Washington. Barack Obama is not even a Barack Obama, an irony that has not been lost on this Senator now turned President Elect. To be fair, none of these men could ever live up to the idealized representation of them that historians have bequeathed to us. True, they were all transformational figures in their own right, but the paths they laid out for America were always cautious, measured according to their own political aspirations and their knowledge of the fickleness of the American electorate. Whether or not President Obama will be any different remains to be seen.

Make no mistake, Barack Obama is a moderate Democrat, a centrist, who will do what is necessary to govern with the highest degree of consensus possible. While I recognize that it was politically expedient to praise the Clinton Administration during the course of the campaign, I sincerely hope that he will not govern according to the same strategy of triangulation invented and trumpeted by the Clinton White House. Despite the hateful speech spewing from the mouths of the rabid partisans supporting McCain, Barack Obama is not a Socialist or a terrorist. At the very least, he will help to usher in a new era of economic prosperity for the country similar to that which Clinton presided over, but let us not forget that the Clinton years were followed by the Bush years and the Obama years could very well be followed by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Earlier today, world leaders as diverse as President Hu of China, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Olmert of Israel offered their congratulations to the President Elect, but let us not forget that these men and women, like many leaders around the world, may have come from relatively humble beginnings but all now serve with the implicit (but often explicit) consent of the wealthy and the privileged.

Barack Obama’s campaign succeeded, in part, because millions of people made small donations of money and time to help the candidate spread his message of change to the electorate. However, despite the histrionics of pundits and public figures who are today heralding this transformational moment in American history on the major news networks (will Oprah Winfrey ever go away?), those of us who supported Obama must recognize that we are now placed in a somewhat precarious position. If we are not careful, the influence of Washington and corporate America (they donated to his campaign too, and they are the Goliath to our David) will prove too great for a President Obama and not because of any personal weaknesses of the man. In his victory speech last night, Obama once again affirmed that his supporters all have a stake in his campaign, but the cynics in the power centers of New York, Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, etc., etc., etc. are hoping that the once disaffected will again disengage from the political process. If we allow this to happen, Obama will surely fail, and this moment will be little more than a blip on the radar of capitalism. On the other hand, if we blindly follow the policies that will inevitably be put forth by the Obama White House without retaining a voice in the process, the pressure to submit to the will of the moneyed elite will prove too great, and the country may once again see an arrogant demagogue ascend to the highest office in the land. Several people have pointed out that the Obama campaign will pass on a formidable listserv to the Obama White House, and I can only hope that they can use this database as leverage against some of the major impediments to real reform—lobbyists, career politicians, Wall Street bankers, and the military industrial complex. However, no amount of emails will have an effect if the American people reprise their role as Rip van Winkle. The direction this country will take in the next four years is still shrouded in mystery. Personally, I am still holding my breath—holding my breath and hoping for the best.

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