Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Is Obama The Antidote To Obama Mania?
I woke up this morning thinking of the Obama bandwagon effect as yet another expression of the speculative bubble mentality that has increasingly characterized America recently. In the absence of inherent value, create exagerrated claims and ride the wave.
As is my nature, though, I immediately identified the counter-argument to that metaphor. Obama does have inherent value: his intellect and his intelligence (two distinct qualities), his articulateness (which I define more broadly as a clarity of thought that allows him to identify, parse and synthesize complex subjects into coherent arguments), and his judgment. I think all of that is on display in this interview that a friend sent me. What I found especially resonant and convincing was a point he makes towards the end about listening to people who are more intelligent and better informed than he is, but trusting himself to synthesize the arguments into a final decision.
But that raises an issue I've been mulling over for the past few days about the question of trust. It's an Obama campaign buzzword that's been used to respond to everything from doubts about how the campaign was being run to questions about his experience. The thing is, after seven years of the Bush presidency, I'm not really in the mood to trust anyone. And I think it's remarkable that people across the political spectrum, but especially self-described conservatives who have advocated for Obama, would be so willing to do so.
The wisdom of the American system of checks and balances is that it's based on a healthy distrust of government and elected officials, and for good reason. Which is why although I'm considering -- even leaning towards -- voting for Obama, I'm resisting the faith-based argument. (I use that term intentionally, because there is a quasi-religious aspect to his campaign which is no less unsettling for being typically American.)
That said, I find Obama's reaction to some anti-abortion hecklers at a campaign rally yesterday instructive:
Once the audience calmed down again, Obama said, "Let me just say this, though... Some people got organized to do that. That's part of the American tradition we are proud of."
"That's hard, too, standing in the midst of people who don't agree with you," he added.
His instincts really do seem to be the polar opposite of a demagogue's, which is reassuring. The irony might turn out to be that while America might be yearning for a demagogue, Obama is unwilling to become one.