The past week or so, I’ve actually been around, with some time and some thoughts that I could have been blogging, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write when everybody in the tiny circle of my blogging world could think of nothing but the culmination of the past two years of perpetual election. I was going to hide until after talking about the election per se had become relatively passé, but it turns out, I kind of can’t.
I doubt I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said by many before, and better, but I’ve been seeing a lot of continued skepticism from some of the people around me. And you know, I’m under no illusions that now-president-elect Obama is any kind of radical leftist who will enact policies that will really fuck with corporate America or seriously revolutionize the status quo (which, in my world, are good things. Because I am a socialist, among other things). I’m also well aware of the limitations that are inherent in the office and the structure, and that there’s only so much one person can do from one seat, however powerful.
The whole campaign, listening to Obama speak has given me hope. Whatever else he is, the man has the capacity to inspire. To energize. To excite people. That shit matters. Having something to frame the fight around makes it possible to fight. I’m as frustrated and politically cynical as anybody, but the man is such a brilliant, skilled politician that I manage to forget all that. I believe him.
I was watching the results on NBC with some friends, and of course, after they came in, between McCain’s concession speech and Obama’s acceptance speech, Brian Williams et al were telling the narrative they had been handed for the Obama victory: Only in America. Anything is possible, but only in America. Many things will reignite my cynicism, and I have to confess, despite the circumstances, American exceptionalism is one of them. For one thing, only in America, what? Only in America can a black man be elected? Why yes, that is mighty gracious of you folks. Congratulations on not letting racism win. Again. This time. For now. Congratulations on taking the contrast between a mediocre politician who has run an exceptionally poor campaign and made it exceedingly clear that he has no real plan for dealing with the kinds of problems the US is facing right now and one of the most impressive leaders, brilliant rhetoricians, intelligent and skilled policy makers that has emerged on the world stage in a damn long time, and still ending up with a popular vote in the 50-50 range. Only in America can we…overcome everything that was fucked up about us? Well, it would have been nice if it could have been not fucked up in the first place, or if it hadn’t taken literally centuries, not to mention the fact that, obviously, it’s not anywhere near overcome yet, and oh yeah, plenty of other places in the world have been trying to do exactly that (South Africa comes to mind immediately). To be frank, it felt like NBC was giving the nation a giant cookie for the very basics in not being an asshole.
And I felt bad, because they brought out a congressman who had been seriously active in the civil rights struggle, and I found myself feeling cynical even at hearing him say these things, in that case because the line NBC was playing was that this battle is over. We can all pack up and go home, there’s no more fight to be fought. Inspirational? Hell yeah. Has something been overcome? You’re damn straight it has. This shit matters, I know it does. But at that point, NBC was setting the stage for us never to be able to talk about race again, because weren’t we there? It’s over. And I was cynical.
Then there was that speech. Yes we can. That absolute confidence, faith, and clarity of purpose. That refusal to pretend that any of this is easy. That constant focus on giving some direction. Going somewhere, and making damn sure that it’s forwards. He says “Yes, we can” and fuck, I believe him. I don’t believe any politicians. I don’t have a lot of trust for our political institutions, and I make my political choices accepting the reality of manipulation and near-constant bullshit from all sides. This guy? I believe him. I don’t agree with all of his positions, and he’s still far to the right of where I’d like my politics to sit. But I even believe him when he stands up there and says he wants to listen, especially when his consitutuents disagree with him. I even believe him when he raises the possibility of listening to the rest of the world.
Say what you will, but that shit matters. US friends: congratulations (I guess? What does one say about such a thing?). If you could please avoid starting to talk about 2012 for at least a year or so, I would really appreciate it.