Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change I Can Believe In...Maybe

So there it is. I'm not a reporter, so I can't tell you how "grueling" and "endless" this election cycle has been. I don't have cable news either -- Black Panthers, William Ayres, terrorist fist-tapping, and Neiman Marcus shopping trips didn't worry me so much as it did my parents.

Now it's time for full disclosure: I did not vote for a president of the United States.

As I explained to friends yesterday, Barack Obama had me spellbound from the moment he delivered the keynote address at 2004's Democratic Convention, that dreary affair in which his call for interparty inclusion (he actually said the word "gay" aloud) rendered the hollow man from Massachusetts that my former party nominated even more of a hack. Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic Monthly cover story last year, and reading of Dreams From My Father confirmed what I suspected: this guy is too composed to yield to kitsch, to cheese, to boilerplate. I cheered when he beat the awful Hillary Clinton in primary after primary, and when John McCain became his GOP rival I anticipated a knockout blow that fortunately happened.

But if yesterday I couldn't mark the ballot in his favor, I put the blame entirely on his party of chickenshits, of which he is now its leader. When a right wing asshole on AM radio laments the "loony left Reid/Pelosi wing' of the Democratic Party that will push Obama around as it did President Bush, I want to buy them reading glasses and a Russian bouncer to make sure they read the legislation. Whether it was war authorization or the support of illegal wiretapping, the Democrats in Congress, led by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, kowtowed to President Bush. When the country, fed up with six years of chicanery and law breaking, gave them the mandate to change in 2006, implicit in their vote was the order to get more liberal, not less.

So what does the junior senator from Illinois, poised to claim an even bigger mandate for change than his legislative branch colleagues, do when it's time to vote on a craven "compromise" on illegal wiretapping and telecom immunity? He says "aye." During an election cycle in which every pundit on both sides claimed that the Democrats would not just keep their majority in the Congress, but expand them, Obama votes for the compromise, thus immunizing himself from charges in the fall that, in the words of the Beltway media, he's "weak on national security." Besides, as I wrote in June, "why wouldn't he support cool new executive powers allowing him to pursue deeds worthy of his most soaring rhetoric?" What some of his right wing critics write is true: Obama does have a messiah complex, constructed in large part from an unusual (for a politician) self-awareness that's rightly assured him of his superiority to the average pol. American history is littered with failed messiahs: the self-important kind whose rectitude inures them to the gamesmanship of politics (Jimmy Carter) , pompous blowhards who impose their interpretation of American exceptionalism on the rest of the world and the body politic (Woodrow Wilson), and the genial kind who call shit on one kind of evil while supporting others (Ronald Reagan on the Soviet Union, contras, apartheid, and death camps). In this climate, a few more boring Benjamin Harrisons wouldn't hurt.

Then as now, constitutional law expert Glenn Greenwald, whose inquiry into the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act rivaled The New York Times', was on the money:
The excuse that Obama's support for this bill is politically shrewd is -- even if accurate -- neither a defense of what he did nor a reason to refrain from loudly criticizing him for it. Actually, it's the opposite. It's precisely because Obama is calculating that he can -- without real consequence -- trample upon the political values of those who believe in the Constitution and the rule of law that it's necessary to do what one can to change that calculus. Telling Obama that you'll cheer for him no matter what he does, that you'll vest in him Blind Faith that anything he does is done with the purest of motives, ensures that he will continue to ignore you and your political interests."
At the time I was told to "grow up," to "understand that Obama is a politician," that politics "is all about compromise"; but if you didn't think in June that the next president of the United States was being chosen in part to correct the illegalities and clean the incalculable mess that eight years of George W. Bush have bequeathed to generations, then you had no business lecturing anyone. The truth is, Obama caved. Then he chose as his running mate the senior senator from Delaware, the Honorable Joseph "MBNA" Biden, a public servant who can always rely on huge contributions from credit card companies but, goddamn, can he smile like a motherfucker. Maybe Biden did help him win Pennsylvania; maybe Biden will show him "how Washington works" (as if he needed the advice from Biden). We'll see.

But I still teared up last night, especially after I saw the reaction shot of Jesse Jackson listening to Obama's victory speech. I kept mouthing, "President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama" to my friends. It's still somewhat unreal. I like Obama a lot, and wish him all the luck in the world (so does the world). If his deeds match his rhetoric and the hopes of his followers, then I'll be proud to vote for him in 2012.

Finally, while I'm happy the country chose the better candidate, I'm pissed that social conservatives can gloat about, well, this:
California is huge, of course. It proves that when it comes to marriage, there are no blue states/red states. Americans believe unions of husband and wife really are unique and deserve a unique status in our culture and law.

Florida is huge because we had to get to 60 percent — and we surpassed that with 62 percent of the vote.

Arizona is huge because Arizona was the only state ever to reject a marriage amendment in 2006. This year, Arizonans decided to correct that anomaly, bringing to 30 the number of states that protect marriage in their state constitutions.

And also: giving marriage a perfect 30 out of 30 record of victory at the ballot box.

All victories are temporary in a fallen world. But this one is sweet.
This wet kiss is courtesy of one Maggie Gallagher, who drops into The Corner whenever she hears sodomites in her kitchen. Thanks to Gallagher and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, my friend Thomas and new husband Jeb face the possibility of having their marriage annulled. Florida voters also enshrined a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- a redundancy when one remembers we already have a law, and, besides, the Defense of Marriage Act (signed by President Bill Clinton) takes care of the rest.

Thank you, America. Our four-year experiment with democracy remains as thrilling, frustrating, and infuriating as ever.

EDIT: One of the grimmer ironies we can tease out of the remarkable turnout this election: all the new black voters might have brought their prejudices to their precincts. Black Americans remain one of the last bastions of homophobia. I hope it's not true.


Joseph.Marhee said...


Matt W. said...

I hear you, Al, but that's still one of the weirder rationales for not voting for a candidate I've heard.

Invisible Oranges said...

There's discussion about there about the point in your "EDIT." People have said that blacks and Latinos are socially conservative and thus helped Obama/Prop 8 win. Also, some have theorized that liberal gays politically have been white-centric and thus minorities don't feel solidarity with gays on civil rights issues. I don't remember any links offhand, but I'm sure you could find some.

You thought one candidate was "better" but you didn't vote for him? Your argument does show that you still vote according to ideals, which is arguably admirable, given that many vote according to ignorance or craven practicality (the latter applies to me).

kiss out the jams said...

Oh, Alfred. A presidential candidate prone to kitsch and a messiah complex? It just confuses me that it's so appalling to you. As for the chickenshits, we have to start somewhere, and you appear to admit he's definitely a starter. If we've learned to untrust our purported leaders we still need to get from A to B in the end, and while I get that you got cold feet here, I hope we can all be pleased a couple State of the Nations from now.

tray said...

A good post. But Greenwald's no expert on anything. Actually, he's kind of an idiot. If you're interested in FISA and all that, read Marty Lederman's posts on Balkinization (

Bill Weber said...

I also didn't vote for a president, but for Cynthis McKinney, for similar reasons.

My best guess is that Obama turns out to be just another goddamn politician who gets to save our collective ass at least once, just like JFK.

(I don't expect the MSM to notice that palling around with Rahm Emanuel is a much more relevant terrorism-related link than Bill Ayers, but whatev.)

frankenbear said...

70% of African-Americans, according the the LA Times, voted for Prop 8. I don't know the percentage of Latinos, but it, too, was a majority. And to those who want to argue that Prop 8 is a "moral"/Biblical issue, I'd remind that the Bible also recommends slavery.

sexy said...