It is easy for cynics to write off Obamania as a passing fad, as lofty rhetoric that can’t and won’t hold up on close inspection — another bout of the kind of naive and romantic enthrallment that occasionally claims American voters until common sense sets in. This is surely what Hillary Clinton and my friend from forty years ago are counting on. But if the Clintons stop to think back to what they felt and understood in those years leading up to 1968, they may come to a different conclusion, as have I.
Neither John F. Kennedy nor his brother Robert were idealists. They were realists who understood the importance of idealism in the service of realism. They grasped the central political fact that little can be achieved in Washington unless or until the public is energized and mobilized to push for it; the status quo is simply too powerful. The ideals they enunciated helped mobilized the nation politically. That mobilization contributed to the subsequent passage of civil rights and voting rights laws, Medicare, and environmental protection. For purposes of practical electoral strategy as well as high-minded moral aspiration, they never tired of reminding the nation of its founding principles — most fundamentally, that all men are created equal.
Robert Reich, February 23, 2008
Obama is different, really different, and that in itself represents “change.” A Kenyan-Kansan with roots in Indonesia and multiracial Hawaii, he seems to be the perfect answer to the bumper sticker that says, “I love you America, but isn’t it time to start seeing other people?” As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama’s election could mean the re-branding of America. An anti-war black president with an Arab-sounding name: See, we’re not so bad after all, world!
So yes, there’s a powerful emotional component to Obama-mania, and not just because he’s a far more inspiring speaker than his rival. We, perhaps white people especially, look to him for atonement and redemption. All of us, of whatever race, want a fresh start. That’s what “change” means right now: Get us out of here!
Barbara Ehrenreich, February 14, 2008
We are definitely cursed by interesting times. I feel like I have to mark this odd moment in some way, perhaps so that I can come back to it in a year or so and try to figure it out. I definitely don’t like the Clinton brand of corporate politics. They messed up national health care and brought us NAFTA and the end of welfare as we know it, among other things.
Yet I confess that Bush has left me longing for the Clinton’s, well, professionalism and competency, however technocratic. Maybe they are market fanatics, but at least they did not leave such a huge mess in their wake. I think that’s why Obama is so unappealing. His calls for unity ring hollow; he wants unity with people that I feel ought to be in jail. Maybe that just makes me an old-fashioned partisan.