With the inauguration less than a week away, I keep feeling like everyone is holding their collective breath. Some people enjoy speculating about Cabinet appointments, and that’s a way to wile away the time, but it doesn’t do much to assuage concerns, especially in light of how much time and energy the good and optimistic people of this nation put behind Obama’s candidacy. The three main concerns are this:
1) That he’s going to rip the mask off and reveal some evil conservative desires underneath his amiable facade. The people who elected him know that he’s a centrist, and believe me, we’re concerned that tendency is going to fuck up his ability to engineer an economic relief program that actually gets anything done. But the bigger fear is that he’s going to be an open betrayer of the people. Not the left, but the people. I think there’s a legitimate reason to think that almost everyone, Democrat or Republican, in D.C. is a wingnut at this point. The Republicans have run the show for so long, corrupting the process so badly for the interests of the rich and the right wing loonies to the degree that it’s quite reasonable to think that well-meaning Democrats step into the house of mirrors and lose all sense of reality, thinking that they they really might be socialists if they suggest that rich people should pay taxes, too. In this sense, I think the voters got behind Obama precisely because he has barely spent any time in D.C. and may just have escaped into the White House with minimal perception-warping. But there’s always the lingering fear that the only way someone could rise to the top in politics is to sell his soul to wingnuttery.
2) That the Republicans will effectively bring everything to a crashing halt out of nothing but spite. I’m sure I’m not the only one who forgets how right wingers were able to shake Clinton to his soul by nixing one nominee after another by citing disingenuous objections, like the whole thing about Jocelyn Elders and masturbation. It may be physically impossible to be so stupid as to think that Elders was a bad person for admitting that people masturbate and that it’s harmless. And it’s even more impossible to think it hurt her ability to do a good job. It was all a power demonstration to weaken Clinton and make it impossible to do things like pass health care. Now, I believe Obama is made of tougher stuff than Clinton, and he demonstrated that in a toe-to-toe contest with the Clintons where he came off as a calm, powerful person while they had the same burnout trajectory they had on health care reform. Still, maybe it’s impossible to fend off Republican obstructionists, who have the advantage of being free of the constraints of decency, morality, and conscience that would otherwise make it hard to fuck someone up royally.
3) Some combination of the two. That the wingnut deluge about to hit Obama will turn him into a fellow traveler before he even knows what hit him. I think Clinton went this way, at least on trade issues.
Now, I think a lot of cynics on the left are almost hoping that #1 comes true, because it will confirm all their worst suspicions. I say “almost”, because they don’t want to live in an America that’s finally and completely lost its way, either. Self-righteousness is cold comfort when you can’t afford health care or housing. The Rick Warren thing really brought out this fear, even though, in all honesty, the most likely explanation is that Obama thought to throw the fundies a meaningless gesture that appeals to their main desire, which is to be considered the Bestest, Worthiest People In America before he undermines all their actual political goals. Also, to take some of the mean-spirited piss out of Rick Warren, who is a scary enemy to make. (As the debate that was clearly slanted against Obama demonstrated.)
But I read this quick little article in the New Yorker today, and it was strangely comforting. Barack and Michelle Obama were interviewed for a photography project on American couples done in 1996, before Obama got into politics. So you get a candid thought about this possibility from Michelle Obama.
There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it’s unclear. There is a little tension with that. I’m very wary of politics. I think he’s too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.
Reading that, I had two thoughts: 1) Wow, I really do think these two are the real deal, and that’s a great thing, because that significantly reduces the possibility of the mask coming off and 2) how sad is it that my belief that there must be a mask is so ingrained, and that I’m probably on the non-paranoid side of average for an American? The stakes are higher, because I think that this election was the first time in a long time a majority of voters voted for a candidate instead of just against the candidate they hate. Not only that, but the more McCain tried to drum up the hate-and-fear vote, the worse he did. Therefore Obama has a real chance to remake the political landscape in this country, to make it more positive and progressive. Or he could fuck it up forever by cementing cynicism for a generation.