Friday, May 31, 2013

Let's Remember The Obama Video Now That It Seems Kinda Stupid

I'm not judging Will.I.Am. Honestly. He wasn't particularly deluded. He wasn't even the only guy who did something like this. But I think it's important to take a look at his creation - It's useful to think about everyone's state of mind back then - given what we know today.

Because today it seems pretty fucking ridiculous.

I mean, people took a primary speech. By a politician. And they turned it into a "We Are The World" video. I pray to God that cocaine was involved. It's the only way I can make sense of it.

All those pretty people are smiling like cultists, and ScarJo looks as if she might start weeping with girlish joy. The gist of this is that a vote for the guy is the moral equivalent of saving a kitten from a fire on your way to drop a check for famine relief in the mail. To watch it, you'd think Barack Obama was Frodo, Neo, and the Last Unicorn, and that when he got to the White House, he'd rip Dick Cheney's iron heart from his chest and hurl it into the fires where it was forged, destroying its curse forever.

Many people thought this. Adults actually thought this. The clip is proof.

But there's nothing in there about flying killer robots, huh? Or having your Attorney General simultaneously hide from and spy on reporters. Or all the other nonsense.

Believe me, I'm not taking the Republican side. Those guys have very selective memories about government transparency and getting cavalier with the lives of our soldiers and diplomats. I am saying this: The guy I voted for isn't really a hero. He's a politician. It's a hard job, and he's doing okay. It was great that he pulled out of Iraq and expanded healthcare for the less fortunate. But I've never seen a politician that couldn't use some serious oversight.

That's the point. That's the lesson we progressives should ponder during Scandalchella. We search for political heroes precisely when we shouldn't. We do it when we're faced with difficult choices we don't understand and maybe don't even want to think about. This is why the years after 9/11 were filled with dubious stories about heroes. As citizens we didn't want to contemplate how we'd square our laws with our counterterrorism policies. And we certainly didn't want to mull over the connection between al-Qaeda and our military interventions. We were happy to have someone else handle it. (We made movies about them, but the military often didn't even admit who they were or how they operated. See how that works? You can watch a carefully scripted version of the story, but you can't ask questions.)

Obama did better than the last guy - don't get me wrong. But changing presidents doesn't solve everything when your problem is the presidency. That it's too powerful. It's use of the military and intelligence services is without any real control. And that it is completely opaque. The AP scandal touches on this, but a deeper sign of how bad the rot is happens every year at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which reveals to everyone that we don't have much of an independent media. And instead of other centers of power acting to check the White House, they often collude with it. The IRS's targeting of small tea party groups may be unfair, but the real scandal is that large organizations allow rich people to buy our government without even revealing their names. And if you think the president is an exception to this, you're dumb enough to star in a music video.

I'm glad we elected Hopey McChangington. He was better than that old warmonger with wicked health problems who picked the shrill lunatic as his replacement. He was also better than the guy who said he had nothing but contempt for half the country. It is a brand of shame on the Republicans that they still don't understand how low they set that bar.

But let's remember we're supposed to be the smart ones. We're supposed to be the grownups. And we have work to do.


  1. I wish that this were some sort of bug, but one of the features of American politics is imputing unlikely virtues to the cute. We've tried to make "heroes" or saviors or whatever our of everyone from B-movie actors to naval aviators whose most memorable mission involved getting shot down to former pest exterminators. We seem to WANT these people to be better than they are so we don't have to be.

    It's sad but, I think, very human. The biggest problem is that we live in a system that was designed to be steered by people of ordinary callings who were supposed to deal with each other as rational adults. And, instead, we've decided that we want to elect "heroes" and "visionaries" and "warriors" and people who treat their ideas not as ideas or interests but as religions or icons or totems.

    The result has been predictable.

    1. Thanks for the comment, tovarich. Your second paragraph is really summing up what I've been thinking about for awhile. I think it's one of the more important ideas we could advocate for right now. If we ended the "heroic period of American politics," it might be easier to look at American power abroad in more realistic, less ideological terms as well. We could be humbler about what can be accomplished to and for other countries, and maybe get fewer folks killed.

  2. A very long time ago, during the epoch of black and white television, a TV producer stated that in choosing what to air, he never went wrong by *underestimating* the intelligence of the viewing public. I have thought for a long time that’s an apropos analogue for the voting public as well. Except that in the 2008 election I was starting to wonder and question whether there might have been some evidence that things were starting to change for the better. After more than four years later, however, I’m still wondering.

    Really liked the creative comment, though: “...he'd rip Dick Cheney's iron heart from his chest and hurl it into the fires where it was forged, destroying its curse forever.”


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