November 10, 2008


Obamaism: It’s a kind of religion. But one rooted in a deep faith in rationality. Last week, New York rejoiced in its promise. And sang the National Anthem in the streets. (Kurt Andersen, Nov 9, 2008, New York)

However, from now until Inauguration Day is the last moment when so many of us in New York will feel so happily synchronized and united. Enjoy it while you can. Just as the trauma after 9/11 had a half-life, and then accelerated as no further attacks occurred, so will the euphoria over President Obama begin to fade on January 21, and accelerate when no unicorns and rainbow bridges and candy-cane trees appear during 2009 or, experts expect, 2010. In his victory speech last Tuesday night, his rhetoric was as well modulated as ever, balancing the goose-bumpy yes-we-cans with a prudent, rational, buzz-killing reminder that he and we must now deal with several gargantuan messes that won’t vanish when the Republicans leave Washington. And even though he may turn out to be, thanks to armed Islamic extremism and economic disarray, the 21st century’s FDR, if we can please avoid another Great Depression and the equivalent of World War II, I’ll be happy if he’s nothing more than a Democratic Ronald Reagan.

We need to manage our reactions and moods as the Obama miracle turns into just … a presidency. On the one hand, we need to look at the way the Hannitys and Limbaughs and Coulters behaved during the six years that Republicans ran Washington, and avoid becoming their irritating mirror images. And on the other hand, when Obama winds up governing more from the center than the left—as he’s promised to do all along—we have to ignore the ideologues and chronic complainers among us who will scream betrayal! when he hasn’t withdrawn from Iraq quickly enough, doesn’t simply free all the terrorists from Guantánamo, supports offshore drilling and nuclear power and non-union-approved experiments in public education. We need to abandon the default impulse to oppositionism, and not let our habit of the last several years congeal and continue as a kind of neurotic imperative to whine. Of course, from the point of view of political cynicism (of which the president-elect has a healthy amount), some left-wing opposition would be useful to the Obama administration, because it will help persuade the center and the sane right that he is not such a wild-eyed lefty after all.

And is he not, in fact? I don’t think so, but all the Obama voters I know, from a Park Slope Noam Chomskyite to a red-state Republican friend of Laura Bush’s, think that Obama is their president-elect. What precisely will Obamaism turn out to be? A lot of New York types have always professed horror that people voted for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush because they “liked” them, had positive gut feelings about them. Yet in the end we, too, voted for what we take to be Obama’s elegant, clear-eyed, unruffled temperament and personality.

Ah, yes, the presidential election as personality contest....

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 10, 2008 5:29 PM
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