09 November 2008

Victorious Defeats

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Part one of a multi-part series. First, a look forward by peering backwards.

It’s possible that the three best outcomes from Senator Barack Obama’s victory on Tuesday will be: the death of the cynical and nasty style of politics represented by Karl Rove; the death of micro-bullshit lie-telling politics, as epitomised by Mark Penn; and the conclusion of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s proto-dynasty. If that makes it sound like I am ignoring all of the other things a President Obama might achieve, well, for the moment you’re right. But these three outcomes stem directly from the strength of Obama’s campaign and the results he achieved—whereas everything else, from world peace to a cooler planet to “saving” the American economy depend drastically on the cooperation of more than a few other people.

Believe it or not, these three outcomes were more directly under Obama’s control. I will also be happy (if not wholly satisfied) if these three things remain true in four or eight years: on their own they represent the greater possibility for change our future.
Take the first one: the cynical and nasty political tactics that have been deployed in the United States since Lee Atwater made the already-flaccid Michael Dukakis look like a pansy. (And by pansy I don’t mean a homosexual. I mean a pansy: a nice-looking but ultimately weak flower with a very limited season.) The rise of Karl Rove under President George W. Bush represented the nadir of political corruption and dishonesty. This is true not because the Republican party necessarily sought to enrich themselves (though some did that, too), but because Bush, Rove, Vice President Cheney, and the GOP as a whole brought the misuse of facts, language, and reality to new heights—levels unimagined since George Orwell was dreaming about big brothers and animal hierarchies. Under Bush, lies evolved from things-you-say-to-escape-blame (cf., Richard Nixon) to things-you-say-to-get-your-way. Democracy was not a value, and transparency (e.g., a government of, by, and for the people) was sacrificed for the people. Or so we were told, and so for at least a few years Americans apparently believed.

I have little trouble believing that Senator John McCain wanted to run a cleaner campaign. It seems not far-fetched that the spinmeisters sent in from the Republican National Committee to try to paint Obama as a terrorist, or a socialist, or a ... whatever ... it seems not far-fetched that McCain did not want these folks around, and yet had no choice (given the financial resources of the RNC) but to accept. Either way, the American people have spoken, and by a wider majority than this nation has seen in years we have rejected the politics of the nasty, of the slimy, and of the under-handed, in favor of a candidate and a campaign that eschewed these tactics. That alone deserves a hallelujah.
This is not to pretend that the Obama campaign did not run advertisements that were “edgy” or misleading. It did. But the majority of the Obama campaign focused on promoting Senator Obama and his agenda—not on slapping down opponent McCain. As Obama himself observed in a debate with McCain, the Republican nominee spent as much time talking about Obama as about himself.

The same can be said for Senator Hillary Clinton, who found herself thrown off course by Obama’s singular focus in the primaries. Clinton was famously relying in part on advice from a strategist who believes that by segmenting the population into smaller and smaller slices, one can achieve great results. What the Penn strategy seems to have underestimated is the ability of the population as a whole to connect the dots of the deception(s) required for such a strategy to work. Especially after 7 years of George W. Bush as president.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and (perhaps) all of the people some of the time. But you’ll be up shit’s creek without a paddle if you try telling lots of different groups of people lots of different things; eventually, these details will start to contradict each other (and thus yourself). What Obama knew that Clinton did not was: himself. Obama seemed to feel little need to be someone different at each gathering, and while he was criticized for his poor bowling technique or his failure to evidence a lot of joy drinking beer in a bar ... he knew what he wanted to do as president. (And it wasn’t any of those things.)

So, good riddance to the tactics of micro-lying. Long may they be banished, from politics if nothing else.
This gets me to my last point. Like her husband, Ms. Clinton seems a politician willing to sacrifice principles for expediency. (Think “gas tax holiday.”) The trend of expediency is surely not dead; it’s all too human for that. But if the collapse of the Clinton campaign represents the end to wider Clintonian political ambitions, that too is a great benefit to our nation, and a result of Obama’s success.

It means we have finally pushed past the Baby Boomer generation—a generation shared by the Clintons and George W. Bush, even if they would like to pretend such commonalities do not exist. President-elect Obama represents something else altogether. There will be mistakes, no doubt. But it is difficult to imagine a President Obama overlooking a memo suggesting that Al Qaeda is about to attack using airplanes, or engaging in propagandistic folly similar to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” mishap, or getting a blow-job from an intern working in the Oval Office, or ... well, it’s a long list, really.

Yes, mistakes will surely be made. Personally, though, I am ready for some new mistakes—and to bury the old ones. To paraphrase the Lame Duck-in-Chief: “bring it on.”


Anonymous TrendsWatcher said...

Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, many prominent experts and publications have pointed out that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers.
You may find this page interesting: it has, among other things, excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking specifically about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:

7:09 PM  

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