Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama and the ghost of W.C. Fields

"You can't cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump." W.C. Fields

"There comes a time in the affairs of man when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation."
W.C. Fields
David Seaton's News Links
RC, a long time, loyal reader of News Links, sent me an article from The Atlantic that says quickly, fluently and smoothly, what I have long been trying to say with my stuttering tropisms.


Here is a resume of the article:
Barack Obama has brought glamour back to American politics (...) Audiences project onto him the personal qualities and political positions they want in a president. They look at Obama and see their hopes and dreams.(...) Obama’s glamour gives him a powerful political advantage. But it also poses special problems for the candidate and, if he succeeds, for the country.(...) Supporters project onto him the identity they long for in a president. He seems to embody racial harmony and international understanding. Some enthusiasts suggest that Obama’s name and face alone could be enough to calm America’s adversaries and restore the American dream. His glamour explains a campaign paradox: how a man who wrote a race-conscious coming-of-age memoir about his search for a black identity could be touted as a “post-racial” candidate.(...) Obama’s glamour also accounts for some of his campaign’s other stumbles. Plenty of candidates attract supporters who disagree with them on some issues. Obama is unusual, however. He attracts supporters who not only disagree with his stated positions but assume he does too. They project their own views onto him and figure he is just saying what other, less discerning voters want to hear.(...) Unlike Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, the two glamorous presidents who shaped 20th-century American politics, Obama has left his political philosophy a mystery. His call for “a broad majority of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and independents of goodwill—who are re-engaged in the project of national renewal” is not a statement of principles. It’s an invitation to the audience to entertain their own fantasies of what national renewal would look like.(...) His glamour makes it easy to imagine that a President Obama would dissolve differences, abolish hard choices, and achieve political consensus—or that he’s a stealth candidate who will translate his vague platform into a mandate for whatever policies you the voter happen to support.(...) To rely on illusions is to risk disillusionment. If Obama the dream candidate becomes Obama the real president, he’ll be forced to pick sides, make compromises, and turn “hope” and “change” into policies some people like and some people don’t. Or, like the movie star governor of California, he might choose instead to preserve his glamour by letting others set the agenda. Either way, his face won’t make America’s worries disappear, and his cool, polite manner won’t eliminate political disagreements. Some of his supporters will feel disappointed, even betrayed. The result could be a backlash, heightened partisan conflict, and a failed presidency. George W. Bush ran as a uniter, and Jimmy Carter promised national renewal.
I really can't blame Obama for using his talents to his own advantage, for letting people project their fantasies, with their sidereal distance from reality, on him or for his assuming that everything will all be "alright on the night".

I think that in the best traditions of the republic, he is simply applying on a massive scale, the wise words of W.C. Fields that top this page. DS

5 comments:

Forensic economist said...

On candidates not governing as they campaigned --

Roosevelt campaigned with a promise to balance the budget. So did Reagan.

Reagan never proposed a balance budget after he was elected; he never proposed legislation against abortion as he had promised; he tried to eliminate nuclear weapons. He is still a saint to right wingers.

Kennedy appointed racist judges to shore up his southern support. He is still a saint to leftists.

You are not cynical enought! Do not underestimate the power of Americans to delude themselves. True Obama fans won't even care what he does!

To quote that other great political philospher, Merle Haggard,

"When the president stands in the whitehouse door,
And does what he says he'll do,
We'll all be drinking that free bubble up
And eating that rainbow stew."

I am still voting for him, I am just not expecting much more than the equivalent of a third term for Bill Clinton.

Eating rainbow stew with a silver spoon
Underneath the skies of blue
We'll all be drinking that free bubble up
And eating that rainbow stew!

Deb said...

I truly enjoy your commentary. During the last year as a citizen of the USA(Illinois to be more specific), I have been completely bewildered as to the response of my friends and family to Senator Obama. Its almost as if they were bewitched. I can't get any rational answers as to why they are supporting him, other than the infamous "need for change". Anytime I try to ask them to specify how he is planning to provide this change, I receive the same puzzled look. Not one person has actually looked into his legislative or personal background. Thanks for helping me feel(at least momentarily) not completely crazy.

RC said...

Deb, I have looked and so has Dave, and the results are thin, and it was I that sent the excerpt from The Atlantic to Dave that he used today.
I have also NEVER heard an Obama speech, and even avoid reading most of them.
I don't ever watch TV or TV news of course, if you need an explanation. I don't live in the US and can't vote in the General Election but I did vote for Obama in the primary in Puerto Rico.
I also have no idea what most of the Bush administration sounds like and I know their images only from paper press photos or on line photos. But their results are dismal.
I think the Democratic Party is going to be mightily sweating out the next two and four year cycles as the problems they face are immensely difficult.
Yet, how anyone could let the Republicans have at it after their seven year festival of failure is a mystery. McCain just seems like another Dole to me, but with a slightly different disability, not as admirable a wife and lacking Dole's integrity.
I'm an old white working class guy with no college degree and no particular love for the Democrats or the Republicans, if any of that set of facts is of use to you. I left the US before Reagan ran for President, I disliked the guy then and still do, but, he knew how to work a crowd. He was smart enough, or his astrologer was prescient enough, to know to get the Hell out of Lebanon overnight. Maybe Obama is just another Reagan. I'm sure he is not just another Bush.
It's a really easy race to handicap. Ever read Ortega Y Gassett? He explains a lot.

Anonymous said...

Well, it seems the Atlantic, or so I've been told, has gone over the edge for Obama. But I think most people are pretty tired of hearing about Obama's 'specialness'. Here's the thing: every primary he was in he lost votes, except the red states which is how he got in the lead on delegates. Indiana is a great example, showing him ahead (a good part of IN gets all their news from IL) by, what, ten points, and he ends up losing it by 2. Obvious: they get to know him. But that isn't a worry to a good member of the Chicago machine. His intention is to win by taking out the opposition, McCain, just like he did by taking out Clinton (by painting her a racist). I can't seem to get anybody to get ahead of the ball on this, like, how is he going to take out McCain? It certainly ought to be a winner when you think the asshole destroyed the reputations of two people who have fought for racial equality all their lives, so he could win the nomination. Any guesses on your part, Dave, on how he might accomplish this? They've been working on his 'collaboration' with the Viet
Cong, but I don't think it's working. But I have to give you a heads-up on an article in the NYT, and I can't believe I'm referencing him, from David Brooks:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/20/opinion/20brooks.html?em&ex=1214107200&en=98dbf7f8bae1fe38&ei=5087%0A

Forensic economist said...

Barring Obama being caught on camera with his pants down in a public bathroom with a congressional page, he will be elected, with large majorities of democrats in both houses.

Take a look at the last off season two elections for congress in upstate Louisiana and Mississippi. Both "Bubba" districts, both held by republicans, both turned democrat. In both districts the Republicans tried to make Obama the issue.

Bush/Cheney are so loathed that there is no way McCain will win.

By the way, Counterpunch has been running articles on McCain as collaborator with the North Vietnamese, as well as articles on his connections with developers and bankers. I expect it will be picked up by the MSM soon.

On collaboration:
http://www.counterpunch.org/valentine06132008.html

On ties to developers:
http://www.counterpunch.com/farago06102008.html

The Brooks column is spot on.

I don't expect Obama to directly attack McCain at all, which would be bad for his image. That will be left to others.