Saturday, February 9, 2008
Five Easy Pieces vs. Easy Rider
In the comments to this previous post, regular reader, frequent commenter and all-around "friend of HJ" Gerald Scorse wondered if I would venture some suggestions for a "signature enemy" for Obama to wage his "smart war" against. Guilty as charged: it's easier to formulate the idea in the abstract than to articulate an instance of how to put it into practice.
But in thinking it over, it occurred to me that this is in essence why so many of the historical examples Obama uses in his stirring rhetoric (the American Revolution, Abolition, Women's Suffrage, WWII, the Civil Rights movement) just don't pass muster as comparisons to what America faces today. The fact is, the most urgent moral issues on the agenda (ending the practice of torture, restoring habeas corpus to terrorist detainees, ending warrantless domestic spying) can all be resolved with a stroke of the pen through executive order.
The meme bouncing around the spherical world of online opinion today is that the Clinton brand of politics is either commodity-based (ie. Brooks) or else packaged into issue-ettes (ie. Sullivan). Both of which strike me as alternate ways of saying that it's the product of Mark Penn's micro-political mind. Obama offers the exact opposite with his call to a transcendent cause that rallies all the micro-political niches into a mass movement. But for that to happen, the transcendent cause has got to be up to the task as defined by the historical moment.
So far, Obama has relied on an ecclesiastic formulation of the American dream to serve as the glue which holds his grand majority together, which is why the choice between Clinton and him has become the choice between a Chinese menu (ie. a patchwork quilt of custom-fitted solutions to address the discrete fears of the electorate) and an epicurian cookbook (ie. a sense of purpose to satisfy the collective hunger for an organizing logic for action). The question is whether or not the historical moment bears out the former or the latter.
To be clear, I'm talking about rhetoric and imagery here. I think there are other, more convincing arguments for supporting Obama's candidacy than his appeals for unity, and I think he's capable of creating and carrying a broad majority based solely on his personal charisma even in the absence of the collective yearning for unity that he evokes. But if he does manage to identify some concrete popular crusade to rally America to a cause that is not, as he has currently formulated it, simply the cause of America, I think he could actually manage to live up to his rhetoric.
I'll try to identify what one might be, but in the meantime, if anyone has any ideas, feel free to pop them into the comments.