There is no other voice on the planet that can rouse young America, Black America, aggressive America, from it’s sofa than that of Barack Obama. The president has left a big hole where the cool, hip, engaging, cross-platform, good-for-all-time-zones voice should be. That huge void has, in turn, allowed dissatisfaction, impatience and malaise to overrun hope and mature thinking. The rise of these ultra right-wing nut jobs is absolutely, one-hundred percent Barack Obama’s fault. His Christlike Kumbya political style fits him for a Jimmy Carter-style cardigan. And, even as he hustles to play catch up, it is now much, much too little and much, much too late. The president has squandered his moment. Even if we’re disappointed, even if we’re angry, even if we’re not enthused, we have to get off that sofa. If we don’t, we’re getting what we deserve.
I’ve been riding the Metro a lot lately.
I like riding the Metro. I like observing people and their
habits and seeing how the world works. Among those observations:
everybody has an iPod. Everybody has a Smartphone. Many people
with smartphones are in fact stupid because they’re on the Metro
shouting into their phone without concern for the fact they’re
being incredibly obnoxious. Actually, I believe riding the Metro
may, in fact, cause you to become obnoxious, and smartphones
may, in fact, make you stupid. Most smartphone owners seem to be
younger, hipper, more tech-savvy people. They may not be better
educated in the formal sense, but they’re probably a bit sharper
than the average guy clinging to his busted-up old Motorola RZR
like me. What fascinates me, though, is how completely
under-informed most young people—with their iPods and iPhones
and iPads—are. There, on the Metro, half the folks are isolated
in their own little worlds, earbuds shoved into canals while
texting away on a smartphone. How many of these people know the
vice president’s name? How many of these people have much of a
clue who Rand Paul is? How can young America be so plugged in
and so unfathomably vacant at the same time? If young America
spent even a fraction of the time informing themselves about the
world as they waste listening to rhythmic cussing, trying to get
into or out of dopey and useless romantic relationships or
downloading porn, it would transform America. There, right there
on the Metro, is the future of this country. They are plugged in
and multitasking, but 99.99% of that is an investment in
frivolity. In romantic struggles with people they won’t even be
*speaking* to a year from now. In entertainment, amusement,
pleasure. The mandate: I Must Be Entertained At All Times. The
most wired, plugged-in society in the history of the world,
these people are informed up-to-the-second on Lil’ Wayne,
Lindsay Lohan and Lady Gaga while knowing nothing, absolutely,
about what’s going on in the world.
The one truth about the never-ending political season is that everybody is lying. Democrats are lying. Republicans are lying. Fingers being pointed, accusations made. Every single political yard sign, poster, bumper sticker or button is treating you like an idiot—bombarding you with rhetoric. There is no sobriety, no maturity to any of it. It’s all very loud, in your face, sloganeering. There is no cogent, fact-based, objective, reasonable presentation of options and choices. There is only shouting and screaming and pundits treating us like idiots. Which may be what we deserve.
Truth is possibly the most elusive thing to find during any campaign season, most assuredly this one. Truth requires thought. It requires initiative and effort. You will never be handed the truth; you have to go get it. Demand it. Get off the sofa and go find it. Truth is, however, a bit easier to spot this election season because the lie conservatives are selling is so utterly blatant that, I promise, every single conservative knows, for a fact, these extremists are lying. Having been usurped by right-wing extremists, Republicans and Christian conservatives seem embarrassed by how extreme, how transparently ridiculous their most prominent political candidates are. So extreme, that the only reason any of these people are even being taken seriously is the economy continues to be terrible and America is looking for somebody to blame. Having grown accustomed to fast food and fast solutions to serious problems, America has lost both its maturity and reason, insisting on instant remedies to enormous threats. Some of that is the current presidential administration’s fault.
The worst thing the president could have done was say, “Recession? No, folks, we are actually in a depression,” which many people believe to be true: that we are either in or were certainly flirting with a second Great Depression. The only problem is, most Americans are so unengaged they wouldn’t really grasp what that meant. Few of us were alive during the Great Depression. Between welfare and Social Security, few of us can imagine the harshness and desperation of those years, a malaise that required a war to end. Most Americans simply cannot grasp even the fundamentals of the unimaginable horror we narrowly escaped by the intervention of the federal government, first under George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama. The president’s soft-sell of those circumstances was necessary to prevent panic, but it also prevented appreciation for the rapidity of the economic recovery. Thus, we are ungrateful, complaining and unhappy and want to throw the bums out, when the truth is we narrowly escaped disaster and have made an unprecedented and miraculous recovery. Yes, it’s taking a long time. A second Depression would have taken a decade or longer and would have seen the total collapse of the American economy.
I just got my mail-in ballot yesterday. A registered independent, I will be voting for anything breathing that’s a Democrat this year, no questions asked. I will be doing that because I am fairly certain few of those folks on the Metro—the metaphorically average Joe, young people, minorities—will be voting at all this year. Which leaves disgruntled white folk still angry about 2008, racists who hate Obama on spec and are inventing reasons why, and dumb people—flat out dumb—who either can’t (somehow) tell that they are being lied to or who don't mind being lied to. These are what pollsters call “likely voters” as opposed to registered voters, the folks motivated to go out in the rain and pull the lever. Many minorities and young folk don’t see a sexy hip candidate to motivate them this season, and many of these people are, let’s face it, just as dumb as the dumb conservatives who embrace being lied to. Many of these folks voted for Obama because he was black. Because he was funny. Because he was good looking. Because they disliked Bush. Because they were unhappy with the state of America. Not saying these aren’t valid reasons, but if you held a gun to their heads, few of these people could actually articulate any of Barack Obama’s political positions during the 2008 election season. They voted for him because voting for Obama was the style, the wave of the moment.
There is no style to this election season. There is only Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, who supports the obscene and discredited segregation laws of yesteryear, or Sharron Engle who wants to "phase out" Social Security and Medicare, withdraw from the United Nations, and abolish the Department of Education. And who advocated “Second Amendment remedies” (the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms) should conservatives lose this fall. There is also Ohio Senate candidate Rich Iott, who used to dress up like a Nazi on weekends and participate in World War II reenactments, California gubernatorial candidate and eBay millionaire Meg Whitman, who fired her illegal alien housekeeper then threw her under the wheels of the bus by claiming the housekeeper stole INS paperwork before Whitman was exposed as having lied about it, and New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who sent pornography, including graphic images of bestiality, out in campaign email blasts—no, I’m not making this stuff up—and who prides himself on posturing as ersatz Mafioso, threatening one reporter by saying, “…I’ll take you out!” Deleware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, whose campaign slogan is “I Am Not A Witch,” has made a pseudo career of her obsession with policing sexual behavior (including sexual behavior when you are alone). O'Donnell's extreme views on human sexuality suggests she herself is a sexually repressed, dangerously unstable and incomplete human being whose distorted and extreme views stem from her own unfulfilled needs or guilt at having fulfilled them. She is either a liar or she is a Vulcan, passing judgment on human behavior she is either envious or, at best, a distant observer of. Her childlike naïveté concerning complex issues of the very essence if human existence should completely disqualify her from leadership of any kind. The fact she is doing so well brands her supporters as hypocritical, naïve, or stupid. They are supporting a proven liar, and, if she is to be believed, someone at odds with her own humanness.
And the list goes on. These are the people we are holding the door open for by being apathetic about the election, an election season front-loaded with some of the strangest and most extreme liars and racists and wing nuts I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Their unifying factor is they are all white folk, they all actively despise Barack Obama, they all want to dismantle anything and everything the president has accomplished during his two years in office, and none of them have workable or even cohesive ideas of their own. And they're winning precisely because nobody is forcing them to make their case for why their ideas are better. Instead, we’re all talking about the nanny or O’Donnell’s witchcraft or Engle saying pregnant teenagers raped by their fathers should turn, “a lemon situation into lemonade.” These people are extreme and dangerous and the majority of likely voters—not registered voters but those most likely to actually vote—don’t seem to care. They hate Obama, period. They will vote for anything moving that is anti-Obama, and they don’t seem to care much that these people have no experience and no plan other than to un-do Obama’s achievements.
It’s not enough to want to turn back the clock or un-do (“repeal and replace”) Obama: you have to have ideas of your own. And you have to make the case for why your ideas are better. None of that is happening. It’s all this circus of absurdities, insulting to even a reasonably intelligent person. And it’s working. Mainly because of those folk on the Metro. Not enough rock and roll this year. Not nearly enough barnstorming and rallying of Independent America, of Progressive America. Progressives have been asleep at the switch, annoyed or perhaps even embarrassed by the president’s wobbles on key issues and what appears to be a perplexing lack of political savvy coming out of the West Wing. The rise of these nut jobs is absolutely, one-hundred percent Barack Obama’s fault. His Christlike Kumbya political style fits him for a Jimmy Carter-style cardigan and makes Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton the two most powerful voices in progressive politics, when the most powerful voice in progressive politics should be that of the president. But Obama has squandered that moment. And, even as he hustles to play catch up, it is now much, much too little and much, much too late for those folk on the Metro. Precious few, if any of them, are going to show up. Even those who receive mail-in ballots—most will not bother. Because Obama has left a big hole where the cool, hip, engaging, cross-platform, good-for-all-time-zones voice should be. There is no other voice on the planet that can rouse young America, black America, aggressive America, from its sofa than that of Barack Obama. And he has said nothing, leaving that huge void and allowing dissatisfaction, impatience and malaise to overrun hope and mature thinking.
And now we who have benefitted most from the administration’s admittedly less-than-perfect performance seem willing to let people who painted the face of the first African American U.S. president to look like the Joker, who want to roll the clock back on civil rights, women's rights, gay rights. whose entire platform is Obama hatred and obscene, extreme wackiness, gain power in Washington. This is difficult to accept, difficult to believe, and yet this is precisely what is happening. We can’t be bothered. We’re not engaged. Much of that owes to the president having prioritized a Pollyannaish vision of bipartisanism over fixing the country and, in so doing, squandered politically rare opportunities to pass and implement historic, landmark legislation. He blew it, that day is done: Mr. president, it’s all struggle from here on.
But, if this wave of naïve, dilettante Jack O' Lanterns storm the walls this November, the main blame for it will be us. Even if we’re disappointed, even if we’re angry, even if we’re not enthused, we have to get off that sofa. If we don’t, we’re getting what we deserve.
Christopher J. Priest
17 October 2010
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