Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Obama vs. the Phobocracy

I admit that I'm getting tired of listening to rationales from people who know that Obama is a remarkable, even an extraordinary politician, the kind who comes along, in this era of snakes and empty smiles, no more than once a generation.

Oh, sure, most of these people tell me they would like to see Obama become president. No question, he comes off as at once brilliant and sensible, vibrant and measured, engaged and engaging, talented, forthright, quick-witted, passionate, thoughtful and, as with all remarkable people whom experience has taught both the extent and the bitter limits of their gifts, reasonably humble. In a better world, people tell me, in theory, sure, having a president like Barack Obama sounds great. But not, you know, for real. Not in the base, corrupt, morally spent, toxic and reeling rats' nest that we like to call home. Things are so bad we just can't afford to waste our votes, people tell me, on some fantasy super-president with magical powers. We need someone electable, someone, as I have been told repeatedly in the past year, who can win.

Of course this misses the point; it misses all kinds of points. In a better world, if there were such a thing (and so far there never has been), we would not need a president like Obama as badly as we do. If there were less at stake, if our democracy had not been permitted, indeed encouraged, to sink to its present degraded and embattled condition not only by the present administration but by a fair number of those people now seeking to head up the next one, perhaps then we could afford to waste our votes on the candidate who knows best how to jigger, to manipulate and to conform to the vapid specifications of the debased electoral process it has been our unhappy fate to construct for ourselves.

Because ultimately, that is the point of Obama's candidacy -- of the hope, enthusiasm and sense of purpose it inspires, yes, but more crucially, of the very doubts and reservations expressed by those who pronounce, whether in tones of regret, certainty or skepticism, that America is not ready for Obama, or that Obama is not ready for the job, or that nobody of any worth or decency -- supposing there even to be such a person left on the American political scene -- can be expected to survive for a moment with his idealism and principle intact.

The point of Obama's candidacy is that the damaged state of American democracy is not the fault of George W. Bush and his minions, the corporate-controlled media, the insurance industry, the oil industry, lobbyists, terrorists, illegal immigrants or Satan. The point is that this mess is our fault. We let in the serpents and liars, we exchanged shining ideals for a handful of nails and some two-by-fours, and we did it by resorting to the simplest, deepest-seated and readiest method we possess as human beings for trying to make sense of the world: through our fear. America has become a phobocracy.


Fear and those who fatten on it spread vile lies about Obama's religion, his past drug use, his views on Israel and the Jews. Fear makes us see the world purely in terms of enemies and perils, and leads us to seek out the promise of leadership, however spurious it proves to be, among those who speak the language of that doomed and demeaning, that inhuman view of the world.

But the most pitiable fear of all is the fear of disappointment, of having our hearts broken and our hopes dashed by this radiant, humane politician who seems not just with his words but with every step he takes, simply by the fact of his running at all, to promise so much for our country, for our future and for the eventual state of our national soul. I say "pitiable" because this fear of disappointment, which I hear underlying so many of the doubts that people express to me, is ultimately a fear of finding out the truth about ourselves and the extent of the mess that we have gotten ourselves into. If we do fight for Obama, work for him, believe in him, vote for him, and the man goes down to defeat by the big-money machines and the merchants of fear, then what hope will we have left to hold on to?

I will say that I don't buy the racism tag. At the very least that I feel it's unfair to attribute dissenting votes to prejudice (since the flip side of this is accusing the author of sexism for not endorsing Clinton). However, this article did hit home on one thing in particular.

I've never been excited about politics before. I know that I'm pretty young and haven't been eligible to vote for many years, but it's hard to imagine things falling into place for me the way that they do with Obama. I am excited, and because my adult life has been spent under the thumb of GW, the fact that I can imagine something different, something better and have it also be something possible is striking to me. I'd always figured that the Bush administration was just... the way things are. All presidencies, all candidates, all administrations, are like this one. Some have been shaded a little by history, but to me this is the inevitable form democracy (or republicanism) will take.

I believe now that this is wrong. I believe now that we can do better, and that we will if we can just pull ourselves up by the short hairs and do something. We've got a chance, and it might not come again. I can't count on another opportunity like this for myself, for my country.

Can you understand? I want to hear the phrase "proud to be an American" and just for once in my life know what it means. I'm so tired of making excuses for my country, apologizing for my country, mourning and fearing my country. I didn't think there was another way anymore, but I was wrong.

Obama is the other way, the better way. And Chabon is right, that does bring some fear with it. I'm scared to death that we're going to miss this chance. I'm not just thrilled that Obama is running and that he could win. I'm scared that he might not. What then?

I don't know what'll come next, for America or for me. But I do know that if there's anything I can do... I won't let that happen. The least I can do in return for this single chance Obama is offering is to make sure he doesn't fail, make sure he doesn't fall. Make sure he wins. I don't have enough money to donate this month, and Indiana's democratic primary isn't until May, but I'll help. I'll make campaign calls and I'll make sure people know. Obama's giving us a chance.

Don't fuck it up, guys.

No comments: