Monday, November 10, 2008

Brave New World

I’ll be the first to admit that my politics have always been a little suspect: riddled with cynicism, overly emotionalized, morally relativistic to a fault, maybe more than a little despairingly misanthropic, even nihilistic. I am not particularly proud of these tendencies, but there you have it. In part I think I am this way to signal my revulsion at self-righteousness in general; so often, positive political action looks like smugness. Perhaps it can also be partly attributed to Nixon having been in office around the time I was beginning to form a conception of what it is to be political. I remember having written him a letter of protest (I was perhaps about six) about Vietnam, complete with illustrations of soldiers in fatigues firing guns, and receiving back from him a little gold-embossed postcard with a fake signature saying how happy he was to hear from the children of America. Oh, I thought, so much for that.

I also harbor an extreme suspicion about, well, not about collective action per se (for its force and potency is undeniable) but about the power structures that crystallize after those upsurges. Think of what happened after the revolutions of France, China, and Russia, for example, or after L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, or even after the revolution that Christianity initially was.

It is with these predispositions that I cannot help but temper my exultation at this beautiful new presidency. I’m not a killjoy, really I’m not, but I want everyone to stay grounded, realistic, and critical even as we’re exulting. Clearly Obama’s victory is a victory for everyone (it’s funny, but the version of Word I’m using still doesn’t recognize “Obama” as a word, and there’s a red squiggly line under it) with a heart and a brain, at least in this glorious honeymoon moment we are having with him. Since I was in utero when JFK was around, I really don’t remember having a president who was so eminently lovable (and really, Obama is a lot cuter than JFK). Carter was a little endearing, Clinton was slickly seductive, but my heart never went out to either of them (although I did dream a couple of times that Bill and I were “friends”), and all of the Republicans were of course either monsters or doofuses. (Word apparently doesn’t think that’s a word, either, perhaps because Word is a doofus.) Will we still love Obama, I wonder, when he slams Afghanistan? when he mixes it up with the Russians? when he reaches across the aisle too many times? Will he charm us into thinking it’s OK when the healthcare plan he manages to get passed is just as labyrinthine, frustrating, and mendacious as the one we have now? It remains to be seen.

Also lingering in my consciousness are shreds of nostalgia for Hillary, even though I know she is sly, duplicitous, wooden, wrathful, and a lousy manager. For all that, I admired her. Only the future history of some parallel universe could tell us whether she would have been as good a president as Obama may be, or even if she would have been better. I think that would be a very interesting plot for a novel to be written in 2012. Would people have danced in the streets for her, I wonder? Or would they have done so only to celebrate the end of Bush? She’s been exceedingly quiet of late, but she continues to be quite the trooper in support of Obama and even of Al Franken in Minnesota. I think she deserves credit for that, and wish that people were not so quick to revile her. She hasn’t made any statement about her ambitions beyond being a NY Senator, denying that she wants to be in Obama’s Cabinet or a Supreme Court Justice.

I’m on that weird demographic cusp, you know, between Hillary voters and Obama voters. They made me feel different. Hillary made me feel steely and capable and tough. Obama makes me feel open and (guardedly) optimistic. Also weepy. I don’t know why his precedent makes me feel weepy. I don’t know if Hillary’s would have, despite my erstwhile fervent support for her and despite the fact that the oppression of one segment of the population is certainly no more special than another’s. I really don’t want to get into that territory, although can I just say that those who implied I was being essentialist in supporting her candidacy may just be blind to their own essentialism in supporting his? I also remain totally uncomfortable with the personality cult that Obama seems to spontaneously generate even as I grow more infatuated with him and watch videos of him on YouTube making tuna salad in his Rezko house with Michelle and Sasha and Malia saying “we need to chop up the gherkins.” And even though I keep breaking out into tears when I think, “this really happened!” I still feel queasy thinking about the upturned shining faces at Grant Park that honestly remind me of nothing more than the faces of the devotees at all the ashrams I was compelled by my mother to visit in my youth.

If all this sounds a little bit confused, it’s because, well, it is. What is this brave new world, that has such people in it? Can anyone tell me?


konrad said...

RE: Grant Park shiny happy people.

I know what you mean. Something happens to people when you put them on TV under big lights in a enormous crowd, and then you watch their faces on a piece of furniture. It's called packaging.

I wasn't in that part of the park, which from a quarter mile looked sort of like a Close Encounters of the Third Kind base camp, with all its luminosity.

Where i was, with the other 80,000 people in relative darkness, and afterwards through the streets of the Loop, and on the train going home, it was not like being with devotees or even Bears fans.

There was just a kind of murmur of excitement, springy steps in everyone's gait, people hawking merch, taking pictures, and once in a while a wave of cheers would ripple through the flowing crowd.

Not drunk on victory at all. Ok maybe a little tipsy. I know that doesn't address your complex misgivings, but i'm just saying, crowds are different in person.

Nada said...

I was just saying to Christina Strong, who was over here, that those reaction shots are a little like something out of a Spielberg movie.

angela said...

I'm also terribly cynical yet optimistically cautious. I was born during the JFK administration and witnessed the national assassination trauma as a toddler, then years later, watched the Watergate hearings at an impressionable age: those cynical teen years. Somewhere in my jaded Grinch heart though, there is a tiny glimmer of hope, which on election night almost grew 3 times its size. Hope is not the thing with feathers, it's a Kafka-esque cockroach that may survive humankind.

shanna said...

i was gonna write a blog post, and now i don't have to.

still, the hopefulness, however fleeting, sure is a fancygood feeling. more than anything, i hope that people who have been engaged by obama's campaign and election for the first time *remain engaged,* and yeah, critically so. imagine what we could do then?