The Impossible Obama Dream
The flesh-and-blood Barack Obama can't possibly live up to the expectations his campaign created.
November 17, 2008 - 9:00 am
What more can he do after November 4? Obama, a black man, will soon be the most powerful person in the world. What so many wished him has come to pass. The symbol has been planted. That which he was called to do — by the people, (by God?) — is now a reality. What more can he be in the real world of politics, by definition a vile form of mental sport, without detracting from that pure, elevated image in which his brilliant campaign manager David Axelrod fashioned him?
Just reflect on the full weight of expectation — hope and change of every size and shape — and one understands that no human could ever deliver this. Anyone who pretends to provide unlimited change is bound to disappoint the disparate groups that helped him to power. Bush, that wretched, cursed, hapless Bush, the most undervalued man on the planet, may well serve as a handy all-round excuse for a while, but that defense will soon wear thin: the president will have to make choices, and when he makes choices Obama will have to select preferences and so alienate interest groups.
No political act Obama and his team can devise can ever eclipse the historic moment of his election. This creates a stirring paradox of the Obama Phenomenon: Obama’s triumph is not the beginning of a new chapter, it’s the beginning of the end of the myth that made his triumph possible.
The Obama that won the election is not made of flesh and blood. He’s a myth. He doesn’t sweat, he never raises his voice, there are no sins and no remorse. No one knows who he is exactly. He’s not white, yet not really black either. He’s a devout but no ordinary Christian, yet he has an African Arabic name — Barack (which means ‘blessed’, like the Hebrew Baruch). And no criticism ever leaves a stain. Neither does he contradict himself when he contradicts himself, because everything he says is true, even though much of what he says seems contradictory. Even the rumors about where he was born — some fanatical anti-Obamists claim it was Nairobi not Hawaii — and his links with criminals and radical left-wing activists seem not to detract, but to reinforce the mysterious aura that envelops him. He is the man we were waiting for; he says so himself. He will bring change, and with it salvation.