It's taken me a while. I don't have anything profound to say, but whatever I do have to say certainly has evolved over the past few days - not because of events on the political stage so much as because of events on the home front.
I did weep to watch all those seemingly ecstatic souls in the Chicago park, and then to witness the actual event - well, via the magic of television. I'd pulled back from my own involvement in the campaign, perhaps after Obama became such a consummate politician and I was no longer sure if he was that real deal. But then it hit me that the entire world was watching with wonder as we apparently triumphed over what has been called so often our original sin.
Granted, this particular black man seems no threat to white women, and he can't even dance. His wife and kids fill the Kennedy role, just as well as he does, right down to all the ways in which they are attractive to the rest of us. For me, there was only mild lingering regret that it had to be a black man before a woman, but that simply forces an examination of how willing I am to let my own ideology be swayed by the happenstance of events.
I'm making rationalizations about how, on the world stage, getting a woman into that position matters less than getting a black man there. I come up with SAT-style analogies Hillary:woman::Barack:black man. And made as if history somehow rehearses what ought to be rather than what is. As if history is inevitably right, simply because we only get one. Not very flattering to either of them.
But then the flattery would have to be in the terms of what we're striving to move beyond. So, Hillary's not feminine enough? Not beautiful enough? And Barack not enough of a stud muffin? How intensely politically (!!) incorrect!
I even find myself swept along in new found belief in "democracy" as an actual resolver of power rather than a ritual construct to sanction the real power as it deploys itself; as in democratic capitalism, or whatever bogus pairing the Bushies indulged in, where democracy is the empty ceremony on the face of what the Europeans have taken to calling savage capitalism.
America the uncultivated.
Still, I can move well beyond how short Obama falls from my preferred ideologies, since I remain convinced that at this particular moment what truly matters is the ability to stir belief, and to do so on a global level. I just can't imagine Ralph Nader pulling that off. The massive juggernaut of the global economy has to be guided carefully, and with nuanced sensitivity for inertias of various sorts, in various directions. That requires willingness on the part of masses of people, which in turn requires belief.
Beyond the marvel at this miracle candidate at this miracle moment in history, are some less comfortable features of Obama the man. As was Bill Clinton, this is a man without a father, and also without, to a certain very real extent, a family history. Just because this is reciprocal to W., doesn't put them in any different category. After all, Bush reinvented himself almost in opposition to his family history, in ways to caricature - certainly for the Europeans - everything crass about Americans - not the Bush family legacy. Bushes don't tend toward born again. And their drinking moves ceremoniously from secret society hazings toward mastery of a tonic to enhance rather than compromise control. An abstemious born-again is almost by very definition a failure in that bloodline.
So the question remains whether this is the only kind of American president possible anymore. Whether a man who is not fundamentally a loner could ever sustain the colossal transference which the pageant of democracy, so called, burdens him with. And if Obama is as intelligent and genuine as he seems, then is he perforce the last president? Who else among us could survive and remain poised at that particular pressure point? Who could remain believable?
I am pleased most with the careful way in which he is reconstructing the role, in particular so that it can be filled by someone else. He is sober in his avoidance of any semblance of rock star persona. He has studied the mistakes of both Clinton and Bush.
In the person of the president, someone real has to make wise and ethical judgements, based on human understanding, which means experience, empathy, as well as some literacy. But that person has to exist in seemingly impossible relation to a role, which has to be acted very much as if one were a real human being, knowing all the while that anything real (a blow job, or the wrong kind of vanity, say) will entirely destroy the illusion to the detriment, certainly not of the person, but of the person in the role.
The most astonishing illusion rehearsed by the American pageant of democracy is that the person in the role wants and wanted it. How strange a taboo there is against admitting the obvious, that being president represents such self-sacrifice that only those without family embeddedness could possibly pursue it. Which surely explains Obama's stumble for not answering Couric's impertinent question about why presidents sexually stray so often. He might have highlighted the importance of what nuclear privacy, succor and repose remains to him with Michelle. But that would be to tell a lie just too impossibly big, and so now that I think about it I'll have to forgive him that one - as I have long since forgiven Spitzer his succumbing to a diabolically brilliant sting (operation).
So, and here is the reason for my delayed response, we have a president who is very much forced to become, as it were for the public good, a person outside the narrative of his own life. If he truly wanted the job - the power, since it would be absurd to want the responsibility - that would make sociopathy a job requirement. In this now matured television age, he must act toward his once-loved ones in a manner whose conformity to near absolute standards belies any possibility that those behaviors could ever be genuine. To have a self under those circumstances would be an absurd expectation.
The self must be put aside and held in suspension for at least the duration of the term(s) in office, unless, like W. there's nothing to suspend, in which case extended restorative vacations become possible, since you were never in the first place actually doing the nation's work, only being, kinglike, the nation-synecdoche.
The changeover is mind wrenching. Or is it?
We have in Obama someone singlularly capable of filling the role, of making the right and good judgements; whose contrast to W. could not be more extreme along almost every vector. And yet we have also, because of that capacity for judgement, the liklihood that there will be far less wrenching exercises of arbitrary authority. Now when exercise of authority might be precisely what is most needed.
Sure, there will be plenty of yeoman labor, reinstating controls on the financial markets, reconstructing environmental and industrial and labor protections. Putting back together a sound polity, in better harmony with the rest of the world. Dismantling imperial ambitions. But if the Bush presidency represented the sort of audacity only possible when accompanied by ignorance - a kind of appalling incapacity for good judgement in favor of fundamentalist absolutes - economic, moral and behavioral - how can we expect Obama to channel the better desires and ambitions of ordinary people up against the raw power of capital, whose bitch W. so transparently was.
Obama cannot be our bitch, since we the people hardly know what we want (there is never any ambiguity about what capital "wants"). At best, we the people want wise leadership, to be enacted in our name if not with our very close control. We will demand a new definition of better, if we will be forced to let go of consumerism and techological comforts and excitements as a way to move in that direction (better). Better will have to be in a more human direction. Better will have to prefer the neighbors to the television. Better will have to break down some mythology about individualism.
So, here I am enacting the end of personal history. My life is a novel, of which I am more the reader than the author. The patterns surprise me, always after the fact. But there can be no question that I am now in a self-conscious stance to my own life which makes personal commitment no longer possible.
And now I would be critic and author both? An impossible combination. The author must discover all the ways his characters might behave, and then write the one possible history out of which a character becomes known. The critic would prevent any and all forward motion. But the reader retains some distance. It is my consciousness which escapes toward open skys, drifting apart and beyond this meaningless sound and fury, which is yet my own.
It is indeed a new day. A good day. A day when life becomes possible again. Projection returns home. As with Mother Theresa's stance toward God (radical doubt apparently), Obama has clearly already decided that - and this is both how and why he accepted the burden - that his faith in democracy is unconditional. And that should enable an honest brokering on our behalf, with the vectors forcing compromise more fully exposed. It is after all a different kind of gaming of the system which overpowers by organization and fundraising rather than studied manipulations of fear and prejudice. This was a competition between things and their seeming.