Work and Days

An Uneasy Feeling

Yesterday..
All Americans must appreciate the outpouring of good will, unity, and hope for a successful Obama administration. But I had a certain feeling of uncertainty yesterday at the coverage of the festivities.

Let me preface that worry: I did not think much of Bill Clinton our modern-day Alcibiades. But all through his administration, and of course before and after it, I thought a great deal of the United States, especially in comparison to the alternative.

Before Clinton bombed Milosevic in 1998 I believed that it would have been wiser to have gone to Congress and gotten an authorization to use force (as in the case of Bush in 2002). He might have also at least tried to convince the UN (as Bush attempted in fall 2002). But no matter: he began bombing he said to stop genocide, and I wrote an op-ed at the time for the Wall Street Journal calling for unity to ensure an American victory over Milosevic.

Whether Obama is President or McCain had won, no matter; it is still the US, and as a Jacksonian I pretty much pull for America—all the time. I am not a Socratic citizen of the world—given the thugs that rule most of Africa, the creepy places such as Iran or Russia or North Korea, the land of the Lotus-eaters in Europe, or the tribal dictatorships I’ve seen in the Middle East

I thought Jimmy Carter proved a self-righteous disaster and endangered the nation—remember the hostages in Iran, and the rise of radical Islam, the commies in Afghanistan and Central America, the holocaust in Cambodia, the oil mess, the sanctimonious preachy lectures, etc.—but I never thought that only with the ascension of Reagan could I really be again proud of the US.

The point? I distilled from the press coverage and the crowds and the punditry yesterday that for all too many suddenly a vote for Obama redeems America. Now, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, for the first time in their lives they are apparently proud of the United States. (Had we not had the financial meltdown in mid-September, and had Obama stayed three points back in the polls, would millions have stayed soured on America and now in sullen silence licked their wounds?).

So I am surprised that suddenly the election of a single individual means that we are united, patriotic, proud of America? Suddenly Okinawa or Antietam, or all those who died at the Argonne, are ours to claim again? (This reminds of elementary school, when our third-grade split up into two sides, as the teacher quizzed us on geography–and the losers of the contest cried and said unfair and how they didn’t like school or Mrs. Wilson, and then when they won the next day, how suddenly third grade became glorious, and Mrs. Wilson and her games were once again wonderful).

But America was always ours, the public, and the nation transcends the proposition of whether Obama gets elected or not—given that the United States, in its worst hour, was better than the alternatives at their best. So I think it would be wise to cool it on the “I am now proud of America” rhetoric. If getting your way means suddenly the dead at Iwo or those who were blown up in B-17s over Germany are at last your own and matter, then we are in deep trouble.

Some More Modest Proposals in the Age of Obama

1. If you are a green environmentalist, an advocate for sustainable energy, a critic of global warming, then just one caveat: please live in a house of no more than 3,000 sq. feet—a comfortable, roomy home that does not guzzle the energy of a larger and more lavish reflection of your success. Do not emulate Al Gore or so many in New York and DC or those who write impassioned columns about wasteful, pampered, and affluent Americans, who all live one way in palatial splendor, but write and hector others in quite another populist fashion.

2. If you are an egalitarian, a strong believer that merit, not class, not status, not birth or money should adjudicate success, then do not approve of the selection of Caroline Kennedy as the Senator from New York. Her appointment is at odds with all that you preach about race and class and gender equity, and is a throwback to the 19th-century aristocratic sensibility, in which a name, or a finishing school, or a pot of money, or strong patrons ensured your future. All that is fine perhaps for the refined private sector, but if you are an egalitarian, a modern liberal, progressive in thought and spirit, then you simply cannot promote Ms. Kennedy, who has no experience, no record of consistent public participation, no skill in speaking or writing, no knowledge of the issues, not anything really other than money, a name, and powerful friends. She is the spiritual successor of the powdered wigs at Versailles, not the reflection of the party of the American demos.

3. If you are a populist, a critic of rich white people who throw big parties and who spend over a $1,000 on their evening clothes (we remember the pirated videos of those corporate Bacchanalia and You-tube shots of the modern equivalents to Petronius’s Cena Trimalchionis among Ken-Lay elites), who use the monies of others to host celebrations while still others less fortunate suffer, then express a modest word of rebuke, just one for the richest, most expensive inauguration extravaganza in our collective history—and all during a time of severe recession.

4. If you are a civil libertarian, if you are in the ACLU or a law professor, or a liberal in good standing who swore that George Bush from Texas, with strut and twang and mangled vocabulary, destroyed your liberties with FISA, with the Patriot Act, and with Iraq, then please extend that outrage to Barack Obama, for whom all such shredding of the Constitution suddenly has become merely complex and problematic rather than fascistic. Please list, cite, name just one instance from 2002-8 in which you lost your freedom, or you were censored on the library internet, or you were followed around by the FBI, or your letter to the editor earned a wiretap, or even one instance of the loss of any freedom under Bush—and if so, just one example of how the election of Obama has once again restored your lost liberty. Nothing in the abstract, please—something concrete, an example both real and personal.

5. If you are outraged at Israel, really mad at the violence in Gaza and the tactics of the IDF and the killing of civilians, and if you have felt real anger at the Jews for their treatment of the Palestinians, then, please, one additional word of rebuke for the killers within Hamas, who are scouring Gaza for suspected Fatah and Palestinian Authority members—torturing, maiming, and shooting them without trials and often without cause. Just one picture of an IDF conscript pulling out a Palestinian and kneecapping him would bring global outrage, in a way an Hamas killer doing the same to a fellow Palestinian does not. And if that makes no impression, then please post outrage about Grozny or occupied Tibet or divided Cyprus, and do so with a simple rule: each time I curse Israeli for killing hundreds, I curse Russia for killing thousands of Muslims in Chechnya; each time I damn Israel for taking land, I damn China for swallowing an entire Tibet; and each time I say no to occupation, I say no to the Turks who gobbled up so much of Cyprus in 1974.

Another modest prediction

As Obama begins to govern and as the public sees that he simply borrowed Bush’s foreign policy rhetoric, jazzed it up with his cadences and pauses, and then took either Bushites or Democratic centrists and called them hope and change, and as he glued new rhetorical veneers on the Patriot Act and FISA, and as he alienates many by making decisions other than voting present, and as the gaffes begin (Biden and Michelle can’t be put under wraps forever), and the Chicago fumes linger (Blago ain’t through yet), the fawning media will begin to look embarrassed, then ridiculous, and finally completely bankrupt. They offered no audit of Obama, no tough treatment, no honest examination of his flips, no balance in their treatment of Bush, and they will soon pay a terrible price for that derelection and worse, as the public sees them as the state megaphones that they have so sadly become. The only suspense? Will they play Pravda to the end?

The point of all this? Excuse me, but as a cynic I confess the politics of the left are now about power, ego, status, and the notion of control, rather than genuine concern for the planet, or the creed of egalitarianism or for freedoms of the people. The conservative grandee at least lives by his unapologetic creed, one that we sometimes abhor, but accept is consistent with the natural law of the jungle in that the stronger and more capable claim that that they deserve a greater material reward for their greater accomplishments or, barring that, even unabashedly for their greater luck in being born lucky.

But for the leftist. the desire for wealth, status, exceptional treatment, all this earns the additional wages of hypocrisy. We all know the conservative failing—that a Larry Craig or Mark Foley who preaches constraint and traditional values are themselves slaves to nefarious and destructive appetites. But ignored are their liberal counterparts in hypocrisy—that men and women of the people no more wish to live as the people than the rich they so loudly despise. If some conservatives adopt the patina of a Cato’s stern agrarian conservatism to mask their own weakness for drink, or drug, or sex, then at least grant such psychological states exist for many liberals who demand global parity as a sort of psychological get out of jail card for their cravings for money, status, and privilege.