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March 28, 2009 / JV

Post-Obama America


There was an article Wednesday morning in The New York Times about the aspirations of the Obama administration to expand fed power in order to gain the authority to take over and/or close any failing financial institution that is considered “systemically important”. According to the article, the government has long been able to take over and close banks and other deposit-taking institutions, but this new legislation would extend that power so they could seize insurance companies like the notorious A.I.G, investment banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms as well.

As I was reading it, I was kind of like yeah okay sure. I’m relatively comfortable ‘expanding government’ with a president whom I’m convinced is not dumb and/or trying to screw over 95% of the world’s population. But then I started thinking, what about the world after Obama? What about the U.S. post-2016? I surely wouldn’t want a GHWBush or even a John Kerry in charge of taking over anything, be it a financial institution or the steering wheel of a car.

I started to worry for a second… but then I realized that after Obama’s eight years of service, the culture of this country will be quite different. I don’t mean to be blindly idealistic, but I don’t think someone like a George W. Bush would have much of a chance at getting elected after Barack Obama. And I’ve never been a cheerleader for tokenism, but it’s nice to see that even the Republican party is realizing it’s okay to not be old and white (and perhaps someday, male). I mean, it’s good to be reminded that right-wing **ckery comes in color too.

But in all seriousness, I believe having Barack Obama in office will not only change the face of American politics, but also the energy of American culture. With George W. Bush in office, it seemed completely okay, if not popular, to be bullheaded and ignorant. And I don’t mean to suggest that Bush signifies the advent of celebrated stupidity in American culture, because I think we have a history of priding ourselves on an exceptionalism, part of which entails exemption from participation in meaningful thought. But because the last 8 years are most recent, and in some ways, exemplary, I want to draw on them for comparison. In many ways Bush played into the tropes of American outlaw culture that have been so prominent in shaping how we conceive of heros. He was our cowboy (some of us were Indians), and some people enjoyed the fact that he made decisions based on his gut. He was a self-described “war president,” who prided himself on seeing the world “the way it is”. Whatever that means.


And perhaps it’s just me but it seemed as though people embraced the ways in which Bush was casually dense. He was the political component and symbol of a larger intellectually lazy culture. And having such an image at the ‘top’ of the country made for a kind of trickle-down culture — one in which the “masses” internalized and to an extent (although perhaps not consciously) emulated the values embodied by their highest ranking political official.

Barack Obama gives us a much different image for our country. He represents what is hopefully the beginning of the end of the vilification of intellectualism in America. We have been a decidedly anti-intellectual country, a problem that was undoubtedly perpetuated by Bush and his lack of cerebral engagement in a realm of secular politics. And while conservative analysts like to get on Obama’s back about making matters “too nuanced” or being too articulate, it is precisely his reluctance to simplify complex issues that we should be pleased with. I was impressed and proud when, at the press conference on Tuesday, Obama answered CNN’s Ed Henry’s question about why White House outrage over AIG was so delayed by saying: “It took a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.” Woo, I hear that.

obsmilingBarack Obama is possibly emblematic of a new wave of American politicians and an invigorating shift in American culture. He communicates neither the American exceptionalism nor the smug chauvinism of the Bush era. He performs a masculinity that is refreshingly unassertive and almost consequentially cool, as opposed to the in-your-face machismo and arrogance of Bush that depended strongly on the assumptions of patriarchy for its narrow appeal. Barack Obama validates a reasonable and justifiable confidence — one that is based on actual qualities (intelligence, charm, achievement), not inherited status.

Hopefully through the years of Obama, we will revise how we view politics and how we see ourselves in the world. Perhaps by 2016, we will have grown out of the old habit of completely delegitimizing left politics with red scare rhetoric and accusations of irrational idealism. Perhaps the right will stop garnering support based on appeals to underlying fear, greed, and xenophobia. Perhaps we will catch up with the ‘developed’ world and realize what most people already know about public goods and civic commitments — that we should have them, and that in fact, we are owed them. And in addition to our long overdue political revelations, maybe American culture will make transformations as well. No more making it seem as though climate change is a paranoid liberal myth. No more glorifying political decision-making based on “instinct” or religious beliefs, and no more acting like it is okay to hold obviously un-/misinformed opinions. The “average joe” does not have to be a total nitwit. In other words, no more being assholes. Post-Obama America will have shed the oily skin of the Bush years to emerge a politically renewed and culturally vitalized people, ready for the challenges of development and desiring better qualified and of course more competent representatives for our future.



Leave a Comment
  1. Skinny Ties / May 6 2009 6:06 am

    The points above are all very insightful, thanks very much.

  2. Dawn / May 1 2010 5:42 pm

    I can only hope that after 8 years of President Obama, the realization that we can overcome our wayward ways and really emerge as a shining light of optimism, intelligence, and thoughtfulness and continue his legacy in a new president of like mindset.

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