Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama-nation

History has been made in the United States. The 44th President of the United States of America has been sworn in and has handed a categorical victory to many of those people in our country who may still feel marginalized by things out of their control, like their skin color.

In fact, race and perception go hand and hand to many. The country is indeed in the first few days of a superficial makeover. As many of our citizens sober up and recover from the inaugural hangover, they will awake to find indeed, Barack Obama has wasted no time proving how serious he is about reform. Or is he serious about unifying the country? Can those be done at the same time?

At least the press is keeping a level head. As I watched the swearing in of the new President with about 50 other people on a large screen TV in the business school, I wondered how his utter butchering of the oath of office would be treated by the press. The audience I was with gave it a good-natured laugh. Ah, that's Barack being Barack!



However, I made a bet with myself that John Stewart wouldn't show it or mention it on The Daily Show that night -- what is supposed to be a comic review of news. I was right, but was completely out done by his judgment that it was funny to pick on Dick Cheney for being in a wheelchair, not once but twice. Although no one would mistake John Stewart for anything but a mildly funny schmuck, he does carry some sway in that a huge percentage of people in my demographic literally get their news from his jestering.

Is it unfair to imagine how a similar verbal gaffe from former President Bush would have been handled? Ah, whatever. Everyone is glad to see him go, although there were several comments in Mr. Obama's speech aimed directly at the former president. The classiness of those remarks has been called into question by some as being rare and inappropriate.

Some more about race and media. John Stewart also showed a video clip of a black preacher, Reverend Lowery, saying a "prayer" which turned into more of a scat: "...We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man,..." Stewart conveniently edited out the finale of that rap, "...and when white will embrace what is right." Wait a minute, I thought we had put those racial divides behind us? Is this really change or just a power shift? Obama was shown chuckling. Hmmm.

Let's not forget where Obama comes from. (Actually, that's not entirely clear either since his birth certificate from Hawaii has never been released or verified.) But, his political origins are in Chicago, the cesspool of big city, machine politics. As Joe Biden's wife let slip on Oprah, there are some powerful forces behind the Obama complex who are making sure to keep the radical on a short leash. Obama the Powerful, Obama the Benevolent might just be, Obama the Same-Old-Same-Old. We're all grateful he's not Bush, but what is he? I mean, the idealism that people speak of is certainly believed by the believers, but he's as much a product of a Karl Rove as Bush was. Dick Cheney endorsed his cabinet picks, which makes you wonder if Obama is truly the radical reformer his campaign advertised, because that would make Cheney as equally radical. Hmmmm. Business as usual? Well, not on the surface at least. Guantanamo is closing down. Talk about putting up new wallpaper, the prisoners won't be released, they just won't be held in Guantanamo. Reform.

But back to machine politics. Although Obama's campaign had a lot of grassroots elements to it, never before was there more big money behind a candidate than this election. Obama spent $7.39 per vote, John McCain $5.78 in the most extravagant election of all time. Methinks that $1 billion could have been better spent, but that's the idealist in me.

I found it remarkable that ~60 million people still voted for John McCain. It made me ask the question, how much of a uniter could Barack Obama be if so many people voted against him? How big was his victory anyway? Well, his victory, although decisive, was hardly a landslide. Here's a picture of the country by state for the 2008 election -- hardly a uniting of America. Here's a picture of a landslide election. Does the press call Reagan a "uniter"? In fact, George H.W. Bush gathered more electoral votes than Obama.

Well, those are just stats. There is clearly a different feeling in the air about this President. After eight years of suffering through the George W. Bush years, the nation is ready for something -- anything -- different. We've got that now in Barack Hussein Obama. It remains to be seen if he can tackle our biggest problems effectively, or if he becomes largely ineffectual like Clinton, or if he does a lot of damage like Bush. Time, and not the media, will tell.

18 comments:

Coovo said...

Ryan, just browsed your article, but what might be radical about Obama is his ability to bring parties together and not make issues all about Red vs. Blue.

Don't get me started on how we spend s-loads of money campaigning for two years in the middle of a recession. I don't get that.

Marty said...

There is no end or time to the comments that I would like to make on this post, but alas I have to actually work today...I will be back

Ryan said...

Coov, that's the part I'm having trouble with. He says he's all about bringing together red and blue, and the people who love him believe it (they believe all the advertisements, because "hope" is the new word). But both his books and his limited track record suggests otherwise -- he was the most liberal, partisan member of the Senate in his one year there.

He will need to reach out more if he's going to accomplish a lot for the nation, even with the Dems owning everything.

Already, critics are being labeled as "cynics" and supporters are saying that all the ideological battles have been won, when they haven't. I expect this to be a nasty fight, not a unifying experience. But I hope I'm wrong.

Marty, I thought you only worked when your boss came in the office?

kevin said...

ry - i actually disagree with a lot of this post.

-i think john stewart is pretty funny actually, and not a schmuck.
-it was the judge roberts that messed up the oath.
-i would think that reform and unification can easily be done at the same time.
-i thought the speech was classy, and i'm glad he didn't tip toe around a few choices that he is making that directly contrasts with the old administration.
-"i thought we had put those racial divides behind us"...i'm not sure who you think believes that. i haven't heard anyone really say or claim that. i thought that line was silly from that old civil rights guy, but i also am happy to let the older civil rights warriors take center stage and celebrate in an unbelievable moment of tangible progress in our ongoing history of racial struggles.
-comparing obama/backers to bush/rove i would say is just wrong. every politician has strategists though and money sources obviously. because of that, obama is a puppet?
-shutting down gitmo is indeed reform, even if all the details aren't spelled out yet. i'm very happy that we are on our way to ending the practice of holding hundreds upon hundreds of people in jail without trying them or even charging them. i know there are some bad folks in there, but the facts behind our practices in gitmo are really pretty bad.
-i never heard obama's campaign advertise him as a radical reformer.
-newt has also given high marks to obama thus far. is that a bad thing? picking experienced, practical cabinet members? i'm glad cheney and newt and others have chosen to be realistic about obama's wins (as opposed to folks like rush who hopes he fails? aren't we in this pile of dog doo all together?)
-i agree it wasn't a landslide victory, although there was no doubt about it (and i haven't heard people really saying it was a landslide either). to say obama is not a uniter because there are still red and blue states i think misses the point. his message was often about not focusing on red and blue but focusing on what unites us all, because there is more that unites than divides.
preachy, yes, but i know that even though that message lacks anything like some proposed policy or specific budget, it is music to my ears.
i think our system is borderline broken because of all the silly 'my side vs your side' attitude. obama strikes me as someone who is genuine about moving beyond this belief and elevating political discourse, and that it helped get him elected shouldn't be held against him.
-a lot of the criticism i've seen in the last week against obama i think could fairly be called cynical. at least the email forwards i've received.

just because obama ran a campaign on hope and change doesn't mean that his supporters are idiot hippies with their heads in the clouds and relying on delusions (i know you didn't say that ry, but i'm expanding on some of the other nonsense i've heard said and more often hinted at). every supporter i know understands that obama is a political person in a political office. however, every time he does anything 'normal', his detractors cry out 'where's the change in that?' and it will continue to get worse i believe.

his job is enormous and potentially impossible (ie, fixing our economy), but after watching him for 2 years campaign, he strikes me as a legitimate leader who has our american interests at heart. he is academically smart, and politically savvy.

i am pulling for him and hope he does well.

Ryan said...

Kev, I appreciate your comments and assume that a lot of your disagreement was generated in opposition to a lot of the sore-loser sentiment going around now. If it makes anyone feel better, I did not want John McCain to win, nor did I vote for him.

The purpose of this post was to point out some inconsistencies going on out there that are being allowed because the winning side always gets to rewrite history.

I'll assume you took the time to watch the oath of office and just overstated that John Roberts messed it up. Obama clearly made two mistakes reciting the oath before John Roberts jumped in to save him and then messed up his own words. That is just obvious, but I wasn't pointing it out to criticize Obama, I was pointing the lack of coverage out to criticize John Stewart and the Obamamania cursing through the mainstream media.

Incidental to that is the huge amount of credit people give to Obama's ability to deliver a speech, yet he has a slight stutter and, in this case, messed up the oath. I find that a little weird, if not funny.

The other point of the post was to ask people to keep their eyes out for the difference between substantial reform and superficial reform. I think I would reword "radical reformer" with "substantial reformer". So far, Obama is basically getting a bunch of credit for Bush's mistakes or lack of popularity. Closing down Gitmo is a no-brainer that fixes nothing substantial other than perception. I would have probably done it too.

Appointing a cabinet that Cheney and Newt approve of should signal there are significant problems ahead. Both those guys are control freaks who like to invade other countries and manage them from afar. That is the curse of our current federal government and our growing global empire. Obama had it wrong in his speech when he said, "It's not whether the government is too big or too small but whether it works." That is academically dishonest (it is untrue) and is just his way of silencing critics of his future agenda. He also accused anyone who criticizes him as being a "cynic". That is also dishonest.

Obama is a walking contradiction who will get away with a lot because people are still star struck with him. But he is not representative of a united America, in spite of his convincing win. He was, in fact, the most divisive candidate from either party in the race.

I'm sure he will sign his first major liberal piece of legislation soon, while he's hot.

And his job is not to fix the economy. His job is to uphold the oath he (later) took and obey the constitution. He could start by cutting $1 trillion from the federal budget. THen I would call him an honest, substantial reformer putting the needs of the country ahead of his own.

Marty said...

I came back to comment, and Kevin pretty much summed up a lot of what i was thinking, in a very succinct way i might add....either way, maybe I'm just star struck, but I am optimistic merely at the chance that things can change, new beginnings, and unification...sure, he could turn out to be nothing more than a polarizing politician that doesn't get any closer to these goals than anyone else, but I do belive he's gonna try and I do think there's a chance for success. Until I see otherwise I am going to choose to believe in him, not blind faith, but believe that he can achieve at least some of what he has talked about in all of his campaign rhetoric

kevin said...

so i have had a change of heart over the last several years. i think perception does matter. if 'superficial reform' merely means improving our image here and abroad, sign me up.
closing gitmo is part perception, part real reform. both are welcome.
'fixing the economy' isn't in the oath, but it is definitely part of the job, realistic or not. even if it shouldn't be in the job, it is. we can talk about macro economic theories all day long, but the average american expects their leader to improve the economy. obama is also getting a daily economic briefing, similar to the security briefings that are now the norm. it's been noted that this is more a symbol than anything else (the security reports are classified, while the economic ones could be found in the WSJ), however, again, i am encouraged by the symbol.
just because newt and cheney agree to give high marks to obama's cabinet, surely doesn't imply that obama will have a similar foreign policy agenda as those two. i think those are two guys who realize there's no political gain in bashing your opponent when he does something smart, like filling cabinet seats with folks who do a good job.

as far as the oath, i watched it like 30 times. this is basically meaningless, but i thought it was fun to try and figure out who actually messed up. here's my take: obama interrupted the judge too quickly at the start. it's possible that roberts didn't break when he was supposed to, but i doubt it. point against obama.

however, the huge mess up happens just after. at first, i did think it was obama's fault. obama had this long pause, as if he couldn't remember what he was supposed to say, and then they stumbled over each other. but looking closer at it, roberts clearly struggled to find his bearings before obama made the pause. it appears that roberts pulled it off though, so why did obama pause? i looked up the oath in the constitution, and roberts misplaced the word 'faithfully'. he put it at the end of the sentence, instead of the beginning. obama paused his recitation exactly before that misplaced word, hoping that roberts would restate the oath correctly. roberts realized what was happening when obama thought "screw it - it doesn't matter". he was going to simply recite the misplaced word when roberts caught up and tried to correctly say the sentence. too late. roberts changed course once more after he heard obama repeating the misstated oath.

i haven't really read/seen what the pros have reported on this, so maybe this is old news. but watching it over and over made me feel like keven costner in jfk.

Roller said...

Sorry for the late entry, for some reason I've stopped getting the email saying there was a new post/comment.

I agree with Kevin on pretty much every point here. Couple additions:

- I certainly don't read/watch/hear every single news broadcast, but the ones I consume most frequently (NYT and BBC) really haven't fawned all over Obama's first week. I didn't think the closing of Gitmo was being touted as an Obama victory; rather it was reported as more symbolic than anything. And a no-brainer, as you said.

- John Stewart... he's obviously a lefty, but, whatever. He's not getting paid to be unbiased, he's paid to make people laugh. If people can't tell the difference, that's not his fault. Personally, I prefer Colbert 10x over Stewart.

Ryan said...

Yeah, that switch happened for me a few years ago. Colbert really bugged me but I thought Stewart was great. Then, I started thinking Stewart was taking himself and the show a bit too seriously, and Colbert was so 100% over the top that he started really cracking me up.

It will be interesting to see more details about what kinds of change and hope and progress Obama has in mind. I know a good chunk of the country is still enjoying a cathartic turnover so it's tough to even talk about stuff. Lots of campaign and inauguration smoke still hanging in the air...

Ryan said...

As for perceptual changes, I'm for them as well, as long as they are not leading substantial changes. I tend to think they are dumbing us down as a nation.

I was pointing out that Gitmo is not a substantial change, nor was anything else he did related to "secret CIA" camps, etc. Not saying it shouldn't have been done either.

But the effect will be extremely minimal, maybe changing the perception of about 60% of Western civilization. So who cares, they're already supposed to be our allies? The Arab and Muslim worlds will not be moved by such things, they are not stupid. And Obama wants to increase our presence in Afghanistan and pakistan, so as long as we're dropping bombs on goat herders halfway around the world, I don't think Gitmo is going to fall into my category of substantial change.

Economics. It's finr to run down the perception that the federal government can fix the economy, but it is also dishonest. They can't. I'm not against all involvement of the gov. I think investing in the infrastructure is a good thing, but a huge job creating public works adventure while we're broke may just prolong this depression. Certainly not reining in the federal budget will prolong the depression, and all forms of "stimulus" that are financed by debt will just increase inflation and worsen the wealth divides in our country now.

Predictions: 4 years from now our country will be worse off economically than we are today in terms of national deficits, national debt and inflation, and possibly unemployment.

4 years from now we will still have occupying forces in 3 Muslim countries.

But I think it's great we're getting a makeover. And I hope he's successful too.

Austin said...

Hi. Thanks Mick, keep the posts coming. I am pretty indifferent to Jon Stewart myself but I think he is funny. I just don't think Obama/Roberts botching the oath is very funny and so it received no coverage. The womanizer jokes had to stop after Clinton left and I think we will leave the flubs behind for a little while. There will be new things about Obama to make fun of.

I also have a comment about the election not being a landslide and Obama not being a "uniter." This is a complicated time with people worried their wallets and their safety. Neither liberals nor conservatives can be confident in how to handle the current economic situation. We have no idea how this will turn out, will government intervention make things worse or better. Also, the new President's initial acts may very well be superficial. I am not counting on President Obama to change anything in my life. But, since George H.W. Bush left office, half of the country would wake up each morning hating the President. I think it is a good thing that this is no longer true. I think McCain may have been received similarly. I don't think it is a bad thing that we have elected someone we can be proud of, even if 50% of us donn't agree with his policies.

Roller said...

I may be drawing a complete blank here, but what is the 3rd Muslim country in which we currently have an occupying force?

Roller said...

And just to be clear, can you define occupying?

Ryan said...

Aus, thanks for dropping in. I know there is no obvious fix here, or that anyone can say they for sure have the best way out of this mess for our country. It is an arrogant proposition that there is a direct way out of this mess to begin with - the recession is the cure to our ills, not the problem itself. ALso, there are some things that can be truthfully said as starting points in terms of what the government should do.

Our national debt is killing us, and it is the one thing that both parties have direct control over. It is the one thing that is clearly their duty to control, yet they want to control the larger "economy" just like they want to control the climate. All efforts to do this will be a wasteful drain on the economy.

If the government wants to invest in infrastructure because we need it, then that will probably be a good investment, assuming it is done well, but at least that's debatable. Same with energy. Same with national economic sovereignty, which the neocon globalists in both parties have sold up the river.

A criticism I have of Obama that is starting to become apparent to me is that he is deluded by his own [administration's] ability to manage the economic model we have, as if it has been a lack of intelligence holding us back, not a lack of principle and discipline.

Before we get into old Bush jokes, for as dim witted as he may have been, he had just as many "smart" people in all the positions that Obama does.

I agree in part with your other statement about half the country waking up, but I think you stated it a bit too loosely? Again, I see no evidence of "uniting" under Obama, just evidence that a different half of our country will feel better in the mornings.

Rollz, I was referring to Pakistan, perhaps loosely. Pakistan's government has surely been our ally, but the people there aren't down with us. Obama has stated clearly he wants us to expand our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Any of our troops there will be met with hostility.

And I mean "occupying" to mean that minimal amount of troops that we would consider "occupying" if a foreign country put them on our soil.

Coovo said...

I don't know how you McCabes keep your thoughts straight in this little box here. But I don't know what I would do if you could not.

This blog is too serious.

Ryan said...

Coov, if you want to unseriousfy this blog, I suggest posting more!

Perhaps the first ever Happy Drummer post?

Marty said...

I agree with Ryan...the more posts, and the more comments, the less time I spend looking at the clock in my cubicle...whether its for the decriminalization of marijuana, or the deseriousification of this blog, its becoming a big part of my work day. The more people hear typing, the more work they can assume I'm doing. Even though they would have to give me work to do in order for me to type....i wonder if they're catching on

Coovo said...

Wow! The happy drummer outta nowhere. That would be a good name for a music blog. Or perhaps I could make serial posts from the Happy drummer a la your new nits. I'm going to let that marinate and will get back to you.

My seriousness comment is about 75% joke. With so many different news outlets these days, it just seems like we are inundated with the same news over and over again. Sometimes when I get here, I just want to be like, "WHere you have you gone Lenny Briscoe? This blogger turns his lonely eyes to you."

I think what makes me lean towards Colbert is that you know his arrogance is a character whereas John Stewart seems to be getting more arrogant with time. But I still like Stewart. If Bush ever went on the Daily Show, you might have the highest cable ratings of all time.