Saturday, December 15, 2007

obama's fans

a few days ago i went to a meeting for people wanting to volunteer to get out the vote ("GOTV") for Obama in New Hampshire in the weeks leading up to the primary.

the place was packed; there were 50 or 60 people in a space meant for 20. the most interesting part of the meeting was when the operatives gave the volunteers a chance to voice their views. i was amazed at how many spoke of the desire to be part of history; of the sense that obama and obama alone could "restore america's place in the world"; that his election would seal the speaker's sense that america had really gone beyond the battles of the past. one 10 year old spoke as well, using the word "recession" and brandishing a copy of Time magazine with Obama on the cover. everyone clapped. what filled the room was faith and desire, often expressed in moving terms.

i think i was the only one who voiced a pragmatic view: that he was not far enough to the left for me, but that he was the only realistic alternative to clinton winning the democratic candidacy. while he is clearly acceptable to the establishment power brokers, a fact which has muted the fieriness of his speech over the last few years, all the same he takes some principled positions, such as his stance that all nuclear weapons should be removed from existence. clinton will not follow suit, "leaving all options on the table," in the cowardly euphemism of those who would threaten others with annihilation and still pretend a civilized demeanor.

what i saw was an obsession with personal charm and charisma -- with celebrity, in short. no man or woman, no matter how heroic, can change history. it is hard enough to know oneself, let alone know and master a nation. while desire is a sacred thing on its own, in politics we need reason as well, instructing desire, testing the facts, and comparing them with what we wish to be. while i admit obama's charisma, it means little to me. in many areas he falls short for me: he lacks the courage to really say anything outside the narrow mainstream regarding palestine, for example.

and i think the idea that someone charismatic can "transcend" politics is absurd and even dangerous. what is this wish but a fantasy of evasion? of giving up the hard work of thought and negotiation for the easy dream of becoming a passive specatator?

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