Perhaps a moment of silence for the last 4 years before the party for the next 4 days.
I am now certain that January 20, 2009 is a historic day in America. It obviously has significant meaning as a statement of the progress of the American dream of equality and equal opportunity (anyone, and I mean anyone, with a Harvard education and hundreds of millions of dollars can be president). However, I think it stands as an even more important statement about the future of America and American politics. It is proof that the future of politics, more than ever, is a game, and it will be won not by credentials or experience, but by mastery of the media and technology.
The best parallel to this before the Obamification of politics as far as the history I am aware of is the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon. An incredibly close election (think Bush v. Gore, minus theft) a critical factor was the good looks of Kennedy leading those who watched the debate on the new contraption known as the television to find Kennedy the winner of the debate (versus radio listeners who thought Nixon won).
Well we now have more than just television now. We have Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Blackberry, text messaging, etc. Our generation, rather than contributing substance and value are merely adding more and more bells and whistles for delivering the same old sh*t, or more simplified sh*t. But because all we have delivered, or more accurately, consumed, are bells and whistles, we are starting to value and confuse bells and whistles as substance. Whether it is a 19 year old thinking his or her life warrants a blackberry, or people text messaging instead of speaking to each other, or reading celebrity blogs instead of reading and supporting newspapers we are well on our way to sacrificing relationship building and social skills for virtual relationships.
And Obama has mastered these formats. The problem is that the future of politics seems to be about how one delivers, not what they deliver. Politics will become like Domino’s Pizza – the promise of quick, efficient delivery will matter more than the substandard crap that potentially comes in the box. Obama has become a major pop culture figure and I think to millions that is his most endearing quality. This is not to say that Obama is not smart, thoughtful, measured and composed individual with leadership skills. But the precedent he has set is scary to me. For the first time I can think of the delivery device of the message seems to have as much or more power than the message itself. I know advertising dollars has been critical to politics for years, but I think the presidency has become more of a product than ever before and that will only increase as people demand more and more instantaneous and glib forms of information and information delivery.
On a side note, Obama is breaking a racial barrier – and although I believe it is important to point out that he is half-white, I am tired of hearing more and more people mentioning that in a spiteful way, as though if we turned back the clock 50 or 100 years he would have been getting a hearty welcome from white America. However, I am also equally tired of America patting itself on the back. As much as Obama is cool and inspiring, the love orgy occurring on the news is starting to sicken me – it is as if America is starring at itself in a mirror and is arousing itself in some sort of narcissistic appreciation of its own tolerance and progressiveness. Stop it already!
But back to the technology/media manipulation. Obama has proven incredibly capable at using message and media to create an impression upon people, even when the actual content conflicts with the impression. Some examples:
Facebook/CNN Sound byte: We need more than just the old politics of Bush and Clinton.
Reality: We need all of the Clinton staff because the Clintons actually know and knew what the fu-k they were doing in making decisions and in picking staff. I am like the Sammy Haggar of the White House. I will keep the Clinton/Van Halen band, but just replace David Lee Roth/The Clintons.
Facebook/CNN Sound byte: Family is private and I want my children to have a normal life.
Reality: Here is a private letter to my daughters that I will release to the media to show how private and fatherly I am.
Facebook/CNN: I am taking a train ride to DC because I have been inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s common touch and leadership to America.
Reality: I am visiting 4 cities on the East Coast. Abe Lincoln gave 100 speeches in 12 days coming across half the country during a crisis that is still unparalleled in American History.
But we are buying it hook, line and sinker. And I need to make this clear – I think Obama was what we needed. My main reason for voting for him is that the Bush foreign policy made Obama’s race an asset in raising our respect in the world community, after 5+ years of bombing brown and Muslim people. His symbolic value is a real asset to America. However, how people have clung to him shows that when the media is played the right way people can be manipulated and led along. I like Obama so this is not as much a warning against Obama as president, but a warning of where we are going as a people. Are we using technology and the media or are we allowing them to use us? That may sound like a cliché saved for science fiction, but I think we are living it now.
We are a nation of wristband wearers and Facebook groups. Obama’s words may inspire, but I am afraid that all he will do is inspire us to talk and engage in more symbolic gestures. He is going to have to do the heavy lifting for the country if this buzz wears off in 100 or 200 days. Celebrity is a fleeting existence, so hopefully he has the substance to make a difference. I think he does, but only time will actually tell.
One thing above all disturbs me about this event. Tuesday will be a great feel good moment in history, but history should have been made, or rather, re-made four years ago. Over 3,000 individuals have died in a war we apparently ALL thought was wrong 4 years ago, but did not elect John Kerry because he was not “cool” or “the man”. When we had a chance to elect a president 4 years ago who would have made environmentalism a bigger priority we did not. When we could have elected a president who would not have let big corporations run amok (or at least as much) we did not because our own wallets were doing ok and they guy just did not “inspire” us. When we could have had a president who might have prepared better for Hurricane Katrina and put someone in charge of FEMA who did not judge Arabian horse shows, we did not and 1,000 poor people died. So when we had a chance to change history 4 years ago we did not. So maybe there should be a moment of silence for all that has gone wrong in the last four years before we celebrate the next four days.