Many people have said Obama will inevitably disappoint people because he’s raised expectations for “change” so high. I don’t think that’s true. Despite everyone’s (healthy) pretense that the election had nothing to do with race, as soon as he won, professional broadcasters were openly weeping on-air over the fact that simply by electing a black man, America had achieved change. Obama pretty much said it himself in his victory speech.
So if — even with his campaign agenda rapidly removed from his website and former Clinton administration officials, not to mention actual Clintons, filling his administration — Obama just remains black throughout his administration, I think he can plausibly argue that he fulfilled at least the eleventh-hour expectations for his presidency.
Once the election was decided, it sure sounded from people’s reactions as if the election had been about race after all. Jeez, if we’d known poor old McCain was not merely up against “a different timetable for Iraq withdrawal” but up against “all our hopes and dreams for the fulfillment of the Civil Rights revolution,” we all could have written off McCain months ago – but we kept being told that Obama was “post-racial” and transcending old political divides and so forth and that the election was about other matters.
Was this really a chance for just over half of American voters to pretend they were completing the work of MLK? Maybe next time the Republicans should run someone Jewish and subtly imply you’d be re-defeating the Nazis by electing him.
And lest I sound too flippant about all this, I should from time to time concede that just before I was born, America’s racial situation, now fairly tolerable, was often very scary — witness 1960s characters like Gen. Edwin Walker, with his anti-communist, anti-UN but also anti-integration views (and near-assassination by pro-Cuban communist Lee Harvey Oswald).
This does not make everyone who voted against Obama — such as me, for example — retroactively some sort of Klan-supporter, though. In fact, after it was revealed that Obama collects Spider-Man and Conan comics (which I applaud, of course — but since he’s an accomplished Ivy League type, it’s no surprise), two people who came out as non-Obama-supporters were in fact…comic book creators Roy Thomas and John Romita, Sr., who’ve worked on those very comics (thank you to manga-selling Ali Kokmen for pointing out that video clip to me — and I wonder how comics fans Jonah Goldberg and Robert George feel about this revelation).
One of the most postmodern developments since the election has to be al Qaeda invoking Malcolm X. I mean, who would have imagined three years ago that we’d be asking ourselves “How will Sec. of State Clinton react if al Qaeda continues to say the President is betraying the legacy of Malcolm X?” The world’s much less predictable than pundits pretend it is. You have no idea what we’ll be worrying about in 2011.
I don’t pretend to know what to expect from Obama’s administration and think its behavior will largely be dictated by external events no one’s even thinking about right now. I looked forward to an unambitious Bush presidency until 9/11 happened, and perhaps Obama, partly for the reasons sketched above, will prove significantly less audacious than, say, FDR.
I’m pleased Obama said in one interview that reading Hayek and Milton Friedman in the early 80s contributed to his belief that government must be humble, at least when attempting things like the Iraq war — though it remains to be seen if he’ll show similar humility when imposing Change on the domestic front.
One of the most encouraging things I’ve seen written about Obama was actually written by Gary Hart in his review a couple years ago of The Audacity of Hope, and I’ll be as delighted as anyone if Obama’s presidency reflects the general spirit of these words:
He is particularly evocative on the issue of ideological inconsistency, blaming liberals for demanding civil liberties but not deregulation and conservatives for wanting deregulation of markets but encouraging wiretapping.
P.S. Headlines like this one make me think he’s getting more Clintonian all the time (but then, I’ve long said I thought he’s arguably even more like triangulating-Bill than Hillary is, which is not the worst thing in the world): “Obama promotes fiscal restraint, big spending.”