Just Like All the Others?

Barack Obama campaigns in Virginia, 17th October 2008. Photo by Dave Elmore
Barack Obama campaigns in Virginia, 17th October 2008. Photo by Dave Elmore

I’ve spent all week batting away careless cliches from good friends and colleagues, declaring that all Americans are stupid, and we can’t trust them not to make a mess of things on Tuesday.
George W. Bush has been a terrible poster-boy for a complex country, and his two election victories (or, as I prefer to style it, one victory, and one “victory”) have persuaded us that most Americans are right-wing evangelical neo-cons. Of course, the country is more diverse than that, and many have indulged in thoughtful debate over the issues.
Plenty of conservatives have been endorsing Obama. Here is a New Yorker, The Cunning Realist, cautiously backing the Senator from Illinois:

It worries me that too many Obama supporters believe one person can snap his fingers and solve this country’s daunting problems. Hope is a great thing. But as the economy has imploded in recent months and the desperation out there has become palpable, the size of the crowds and the hope that surrounds Obama have made me a bit uneasy. I don’t mean hope in the traditional “government will fix things” sense that the Democratic Party represents – we all know what will happen to the size of government if Democrats control Washington, and we can thank George Bush for setting a fine example – but hope in a more poignant, human sense. Where is the line between hope and inevitable disappointment, between faith and unrealistic expectations? Maybe we’ll find out.

This is the other, more founded worry that I’ve heard over the past few days (weeks, months). That Obama will inevitably be a disappointment, that he will turn out to be “just like all the others.”
This really all depends on your definition of the terms, which affects whether the prediction is trivially true, or blinkered pessimism.  Perhaps you define the bending and breaking of promises, and all the compromises a President must make on any given day, as evidence of a betrayal?  In that sense, President Obama will undoubtedly disappoint. However, to govern is to choose, and it would literally impossible for him to fully satisfy the demands of his base, both on economic decisions and the social/cultural aspects too (for one thing, his base is very broad and will disagree amongst themselves on many issues).  A competent and sober Obama presidency will undoubtedly deliver less than the idealistic, liberal supporters would demand.  For the sake of unity, perhaps that is actually a good thing.  Crucially, I would say that if expectations are confounded, that would be the fault of the crowds doing the expecting, and not President Obama.
In other ways, I think it is palpably absurd to say that Obama will be just like other politicians.  He ran very different Primary and General Election campaigns to any seen before.  He has taken a strong stand against “dumb wars” and the Human Rights abuses that have sullied the American Government’s reputation at home and abroad.  In this case, it is by no means obvious or to be expected that a President Obama would eventually, inevitably disappoint.  Quite the reverse – hoping that he will maintain some integrity on this point seems quite a rational and practical expectation, given the evidence of his approach that we currently have available.
The contrast, remember, is with George W. Bush, and John McCain.  Obama is neither of those men, and therefore, on some level, it is impossible for him to disappoint!  Certain worlds that are possible in an Obama presidency are not possible in a McCain presidency, and vice-versa.  For a left-leaning, liberally minded soul, that should be a source of great comfort.
Even though expectations are ridiculously high for Barack Obama, I would suggest that if anyone can actually deliver on the promise of postive change, it is “that one”.  He recruited and unprecedented number of campaigners to his banner during the two year campaign, and has inspired them enough to maintain momentum and financial donations right up until the present day.  If he is clever, he will use this army of enthusiastic volunteers to win the cultural arguments, and to provide the succour and strength to the rest of the country during the austere times that surely lie ahead.
Sure, Barack Obama cannot change the world all by himself.  The point is, he’s not by himself, is he?  I will be judging him by what tasks he sets his activist base after the election.

Text messages from the Obama Campaign keeps the activists active. Photo by David Erickson
Text messages from the Obama Campaign keep the activists active. Photo by David Erickson

2 Replies to “Just Like All the Others?”

  1. Diversity is ever-so-slightly glossed-over in a two-horse race though, isn’t it?
    Also, it doesn’t matter whether all americans are stupid – a majority will be enough to send us all to hell in a hand-cart. Again.
    And even if Obama wins, do you think for a moment their corrupt election system will allow it? No, the other chap will “win” for sure. I’m looking forward to collecting on our bet.

  2. There is a president elect Obama because the Democrats got their expanded base out to vote, while the Republicans could not.
    He will probably be aware, much like Tony Blair was, of when and where he must dissapoint. There are enough possible traps to keep advisors busy for years.

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