Friday, September 14, 2012
Obama - our best hope
The central longing of presidential hero worship is to be led in some great adventure or act of national daring. Mailer's reverential portrait of Kennedy, for example, dwelled on the candidate's existential promise, by which the novelist meant (if he meant anything at all) that JFK would gratify our 'pioneer lust for the unexpected and the incalculable.'
Our need for the opposite is the reason I will vote to keep Barack Obama in the White House this fall. We have an existential option before us, all right: an amazingly reinvigorated G.O.P. that has launched itself on a passionate crusade for pure capitalism. It offers idealism and energy, it rages against government and regulation ... and it promises a huge serving of the unexpected and the incalculable.
[...] We really have no idea what will happen should they [the G.O.P.] take over the machinery of the state in January 2013.
We know about the tax cuts they will enact, of course, and how those will defund operations in Washington. We can guess pretty accurately how social-insurance programs will be crippled, how federal services will be outsourced, and how oversight agencies will be sabotaged. But the right's holy war against every form of government involvement in the private sector---the Ayn Rand position that the G.O.P adopted after the financial crisis---this is something we haven't seen for a century or more. They tell us it's a way to 'take back America,' but there is no recent chapter of American history to which we might turn for guidance or comparison.
That's the path of boldness this year; an amped-up wrecking crew, turned loose on what remains of John Kenneth Galbraith's new industrial state. Freedom through devastation---it's something of a utopian program, offered, ironically enough, by the so-called conservatives.
I myself will decline to take that existential leap. We know now that Barack Obama is no Superman. He has been unimaginative and conventional. On his watch, the banks got bigger. The oceans continued to rise. The wars sputtered on. But at least he has been a conscientious administrator of the state. He is not flamboyantly corrupt, in the manner of Tom DeLay and his congressional cohort, or gleefully perverse, in the manner of the Bush Administration's Department of Labor. And that makes the choice easy for me, despite my disappointment: I will choose the safe over the venturesome, the maintenance crew over the wrecking crew. It doesn't make for a soaring slogan or an existential journey, but it's the best we can hope for this time around.