Friday, December 11, 2009

Is actually learning some basic facts about a politician before you start worshipping him too much to ask?

So, President Obama has announced the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan. To their credit, more liberals have attacked this decision than I expected. In many such cases, however, my respect is somewhat tempered by the fact that many of them are getting indignant about the fact that their beloved has betrayed them by doing exactly what he had always explicitly said he intended to do. Obama advocated the idea of escalating in Afghanistan well before he was elected, after all. He became the "peace candidate" because he was Not Bush, and Bush was a warmonger, and so Not Bush must be a great lover of peace. QED.

The result is actually remarkably similar to the subject of a recent post, the myth of Leon Trotsky the good Communist. Both men have an admiring mythology built around them that is not only at odds with the facts, it is explicitly contradicted by the glorified hero's own words!

This is a predictable outcome of both the way Barack Obama ran his presidential campaign and the way most of the media covered it. The elections always heavily emphasize general concepts tied to strong emotions- Freedom, Hope, Compassion, Children, Patriotism, Danger, Those Other People We Can't Stand- but Obama went further in emphasizing cheery platitudes and good vibes over actual policy and political philosophy than any other major politician I can recall in my lifetime. He was a unifier, he was pragmatic, he was nonideological, he was understanding he was hopeful, he was an historic milestone in America's racial history, he was Not Bush. Most of the mainstream media, thoroughly biased in Obama's favor and not especially politically incisive even at the best of times, indulged this.

John McCain often wasn't all that much better, his persona heavily dependent on his military service and on the reputation as a "maverick" that he had received during his stint as the media's favorite Republican earlier in the decade. I'll say this much for McCain, though: I doubt anyone supported him because they had fallen under the impression that he was a peacenik or a supporter of gay marriage or an opponent of big business.

It's not that Obama didn't have concrete beliefs- his campaign site had an extensive platform outlining his proposed policies. And yet, such was the fervor around him that he was able to rally a passionate following with the most vacuous campaign since "Tippecanoe and Tyler too". He isn't anti-war, but he's a man of powerful charisma who seemed like he ought to be, and who people wanted to be anti-war
, and that was enough.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

David Mendell's Obama: From Promise to Power claims that even Obama himself considered the "Yes, We Can!" theme mindless and vapid, and that his advisors imposed it on him over his objections. Clearly Obama gave his constituency too much credit for critical thinking. His advisors must have been good students of that Menckenian cliché: “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

I remember getting a lot of dismissive or downright vicious reactions when I speculated that Obama would neither end our wars nor facilitate gay marriage, two issues supposedly dear to liberal hearts. I was a cynic, a misanthrope, a miserable contrarian. Yet, as you point out, his more unpalatable intentions were clearly outlined in his campaign platform for anyone to read. Instead of letting this erode their enthusiasm, his boosters busied themselves with demonizing McCain/Palin for more openly advocating militarism and other unsavory values—in other words, punishing them for being more transparent. Even now, the typical liberal blogger feels obligated to remind us that, as bad as things are, at least we aren’t dealing with Bush/Cheney/McCain/Palin. (See this recent post from Salon’s Joan Walsh for just one example: