This is the title of an excellent essay written by the all-world writer, Charles Pierce, in the June issue of Esquire magazine. I highly recommend you pick it up. In 2004, Pierce wrote a piece on John Kerry that almost made me like the Senator, as it came close to even humanizing the guy. On the essay on Obama, here are a few quotes I wanted to share.
There is one point in the stump speech, however, that catches the cynic up short every time. It comes near to the end, when Obama talks about cynics. Obama says that cynics believe they are smarter than everyone else. The cynic thinks he’s wrong. The cynic doesn’t think he’s wiser or more clever or more politically attuned than anyone else. It’s just that he fears that, every morning, he’ll discover that his country has done something to deface itself further, that something else he thought solid will tremble and quake and fall to ruin, that his fellow citizens will sell more of their birthright for some silver that they can forge into shackles. He has come to believe that the worst thing a citizen of the United States of America can believe is that his country will not do something simply because it’s wrong. It would be a mistake for anyone — but especially for a presidential candidate — to believe that the cynic thinks himself wise or safe or liberated. In 2008, the cynic is more modest. He considers himself merely adequate to the times.
Later on Pierce adds:
Cynicism was noble, the cynic believed. It was to be directed only at targets worthy of it and not at a candidate’s failure to provide what the elite political press could sell to a complicit nation as the proper proletarian dumb show. It was to be directed at how seriously Barack Obama has misjudged the country he so obviously wants to lead, which is not the country he talks about but the spavined America that actually exists, because that’s the country in which the American people, in a hundred different acts of omission and commission, have freely determined that they want to live. A country of stunted anger and, yes, bitter denial of all that it’s done to itself. That’s the country in which Barack Obama is running now. If he sees it from the stage when he tilts his head and looks off into the far distance, he gives no sign of it.
He talks forever about “change.” Change from what? the cynic wondered. Obama never really says. He criticizes Bush, and his people, and his policies. He runs through the litany: Iraq. Katrina. The collapse of the subprime mortgage industry. The overall economy, now barely clouding the mirror under its nose. He’s tough when he does it, and smart, and shrewd. But it ends there. Obama never addresses the era of complicity, the fact of the country’s accessorial conduct in its own murder. He just tells the country that it’s really better than all that. And the cynic’s questions are never really answered. And he talks forever about “hope.” The cynic hears it and remembers the legend of Pandora. Hope was the jewel left in the box after she’d opened it, but Pandora never noticed Hope until she’d loosed all the demons onto the world.
Why would anyone have faith in America, which is not tough but fearful, not smart but stupid, and not shrewd but willing to fall for almost anything as long it comes wrapped in a flag? Why would anyone have faith in Americans? Barack Obama says that he has that faith because of his own life, because he was able to rise to the point where he can be thought of as president of the United States. He is the country’s walking absolution. That’s his reason, the cynic thinks, but it’s not mine. There has to be confession. There has to be penance. Being Barack Obama is not enough. Not damn close to enough.
Pierce finishes his essay with the inner turmoil he feels and then finishes with a desperate plea.
Obama takes the stage and the hall explodes, the way all the halls have exploded in this, the last really good week he will have. All the rest of the upcoming weeks and months will be about becoming aware that the country he imagines is not the America that is, and that it hasn’t been for a very long time. And the cynic realizes at last that he is more naive than anyone else here, particularly more than the slim, smooth candidate himself, stalking the stage in his edgeless way and looking out over the crowd at something in his private distance. The cynic believes in an old, abandoned country that’s no less illusory than the redeemed one Obama is promising to this crowd. Isn’t that something? the cynic thinks. Maybe that’s enough, that single revelation, just a flicker of the lost imagination. For the last time, in the roar of the crowd, it comes back to him again. Convince me America is not an illusion. Convince me that it never was. Convince me that you’re not a pious mirage. Convince me that we’re not. Now that you brought it up, convince me.
While not all of Pierce’s sentiments are mine, he does echo a lot of my unease with Obama. Idealism is pretty much dead in my life. After 8 years of if you want to help the country in its current crisis—go out and spend like there is no tomorrow, I thirst for someone who is willing to leave the platitudes back in the primaries and instead being willing to level with us. People in some parts of the country are beginning to be more open to an honest dialogue. It’s funny how a region of the country who has been battered economically by the results of globalization can begin to pull their heads out of their asses about what another man wants to stick in his. (gay rights) It’s interesting how the real estate bubble can motivate some to contemplate how the free market isn’t the perfect model that the Larry Kudlow’s of the world want to make it. (meet our friend, government oversight)
I know telling people they need to put on a sweater and turn down their thermostat hasn’t generally been a saavy political move, but giving us absolution for our sins and offering hope and change as the antedote leaves us cynics a bit empty. It’s not like the cynic is left with much choice, though, as Pierce writes:
In the end, the Republicans settled on John McCain, who’d traded his shiny armor from 2000 for a tattered choir robe, and who was promising to run on being better at everything at which George W. Bush had been bad. The cynic had spent time with McCain almost a decade earlier, and he had liked him tremendously, and now the cynic didn’t recognize him at all.
There is still time to be convinced. For those of you that think the states Hilary Clinton has been slam-dunking Obama in that the reason is all about racism, I suggest you visit these places. I won’t claim that an unhealthy part of these voters decision-making was based on not giving the country’s top job to a black man, there was a bigger portion that chose Hilary because they wanted to go with the devil they knew. Life was pretty good for these people in the 90’s and they are nostalgic for those days, not for a product that has been promised to be new and improved. If Obama can’t be more concrete in how these people are going to be included in the change and hope tour he promises to bring to the nation, the electoral math just isn’t going to happen for him.
(By the way, the best 8 dollars I spend a year is on a subscription to Esquire. I know some here have given up on reading anything that isn’t in online. I suggest you break that vow and turn the page back. Esquire is where many of the best writers offer up an active view of life.)