I wrote this in response to an article on another list, but the general attitude I responded to is common enough. It is a recoil at the sight of Barak Obama’s rallies and speeches mostly, but also his political positions. The typical terms include: platitudes, revivalist, naive, empty, credulous, cult, spell, euphoria, fervor, creepy, messianic. It is a revulsion of the sophisticated from what they see as mesmerized, mindless mass hysteria.
So, some responses to all of that:
8 things come to mind. (Most of them, I notice, are more than 30 years old.)
1. When I was working in the Bob Scheer for Congress campaign in 1966, people would say he was using us, and I would say, “Never trust a politician who isn’t using you.”
2. When I wrote an endorsement of McGovern for President in 1972, people would say he wasn’t going to do what he says that he will do, and I would say, “Then he is building us a protest movement; what have we got now?”
3. When we said in 1964, “Don’t trust anybody over 30,” I honestly think that expressed, “Don’t trust anybody who is over 30 in 1964.” Because we saw a generation for whom every mass political gathering was the growth of fascism. That was the life they had lived. They had reason. We have no excuse.
4. A “cult.” I used to indulge in making fun of Mormonism. And one day someone said it was not a religion, but a cult. And I realized, “What am I doing?” A Jew deriding someone else’s religion. I could describe Christianity or Judaism, using accurate detail, in such a way that it sounded like a cult. You can describe any congregation of belief, good or bad, as a cult. The Anti-Vietnam War movement was a cult. Thank God for it.
5. Platitudes. “We Shall Overcome.” “Freedom Now!” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize.” Platitudes. Thank God for them.
“Black and white together.” A wild, desperate hope. How credulous can you get? How unsophisticated and naive can you be? And it takes many years. And it is far from being done. But when we see some of it in action, in big-time action, in credulous, youth-driven action, why can’t we rejoice? Even if the hope and heart we see this day, this time around, should end in disappointment, should only move us one step forward, why can’t we rejoice? I am proud of holding hands in a vast, naive, credulous circle, singing platitudes with a thousand other fools. Thank God for that folly; it did good. This, today, is doing good.
Virtue needs our help more than folly needs our disapproval.
6. In the days of “Listening to Prozac,” I saw something in my own subculture, a commitment to despondency, an implacable cynicism. If you were sensitive, you were miserable, and if anyone was happy, they weren’t facing reality.
7. “Obama’s….going around issuing promissory notes on the future that he can’t possibly redeem…. Promises to heal the world with negotiations with the likes of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.”
Talk is not cheap. If talks with Iran meant nothing, this administration would have yielded to them long ago. But, settlements are too much within reach. They fear a settlement. Syria and Iran have both offered comprehensive settlements, including Palestine. But we refuse to give up “regime change,” which means overthrowing their governments and installing ones that we approve. (Yes, that is our policy.)
Talks mean normalization, regional security, renouncing the overthrow of their governments. In return, Assad suggests he could even turn off Hamas, which in turn would turn off the Israeli Right. Talks mean peace, and we will not allow it.
8. Talk isn’t cheap at home. Health reform. Someone asked Obama what he would do if that couple from the 1990s TV commercials were brought back, the folksy ones who destroyed health reform by saying the government would choose your doctor and dictate your medical care. Obama said that he would go on television and say that they were lying.
That was actually deep. I think he, and no one else around–in part because of his so objectionable inclusiveness–could really do that and be listened to. When the truth is listened to, more often than not it is believed.
Bush has cut taxes for the rich repeatedly for the last eight years. He got away with it because there was no talk. Let’s have a national discussion. Let’s bring in both Left and Right. Are we afraid of that?
Most of Bush’s policies have been totally indefensible. Let’s make somebody defend them. Let’s go back to Square 1 and defend the assumptions we have made. We should be eager for an open-ended talk about fundamental questions. For example:
“Are the wealthy the engines of progress, of economic growth? You used to say it was the marketplace, ordinary people with money in their hands, well informed, making their own decisions, driving economic growth. Only the wealthy who served them would prosper, and the rest would fade away. Now you say bypass the ordinary people and give money directly to the wealthy, all of them, not because they serve, but just because they’re rich. What good does that do? Could you please defend that policy?”
But they cannot defend that policy. The Right cannot survive such talk. If we all put our cards on the table, we will have the stronger hand. And I can see why old fighters returning to the ring are not likely to precipitate it. Maybe Obama, the bland, open to all, folksier-than-thou, but still, please notice, insisting on a core of serve the people, and putting youthful eyes on politics, maybe Obama can make a start.
What have we got now?