Friday, February 15, 2008

"I Had A Bad Dream...."

I just watched all the Obama tv ads and some other footage. One really can't help but "root" for him personally to take home the statuette, the sane, rational and familiar can-do suit flanked by two repugnant maniacs, Clinton and McCain. But there's more - every note of the campaign is precisely pitched to succeed in the present situation, where the electoral process is fully assimilated to a genre of media contests, the Academy Awards, The Apprentice, the World Series. The Obama campaign cultivates a mood of unbroken calm, ordinariness, de-escalation of the crisis-on-the-hour atmosphere of hyperventilation that is US mass media, a certain groundedness. None of that prodding of anxiety, the ominous narrative voice whispering in your ear of the scams and schemes and corruption of the opponent, the list of dangers, threats, risks and impending catastrophes as the clock tick tick ticks. All that is blessedly absent. Instead, we are transported to the bureau of trouble shooting. Entering the Obama campaign, you exit the swirling swooping CGI realm of calamity and helplessness and return to the brightly lit halls of competence and management, where the ground is steady under your feet and the camera doesn't swing around incessantly and sarcasm is not the only attitude possible for coping. The figure of Obama is imbued with the essence of achievement and capability, and so without making it explicit the campaign promises you will never catch him boasting of his incompetence, inattention, lack of foresight, bad judgement, poor information, and bungling. And to stitch this image and atmosphere into memory of more optimistic times, and feelings of empowerment, there are passing historical allusions for all - "our dream won't be deferred" - left quite vague so, as Murr notes below, everyone can fill in the details of their own dreams. And a little gentle move leftward, answering criticisms without exactly acknowledging them, as the nomination is sewn up. Image and personality wise, the contest as contest is no contest. Obama is the only appealing and reassuring figure. And he's packaged as just this dream lawyer you were hoping to find when you are really in trouble. Not an activist, just a professional, but not a snake. He at least acknowledges who is supposed to be working for whom. Counsellor Obama happily accepts an obligation to argue, to make a case, to make the elements of reasoning connect. He projects himself as your counsel, antidote to "the decider", who will, if nothing else, restore rationality and reasonableness to fashion. The "inspirational" ornamentation seems stuck on by the speechwriters, and the handlers who have advised him to affect an ever so slightly southern accent on the "y"s of "poverty" and "prosperity"; one can dismiss all that as courtroom theatrics. You're his client and he won't lie to you. (Hilary Clinton would lie to you every minute, just out of habit; she'd be secretly working for the other side if the price was right). Obama is that lawyer who looks at the case and tells you, yes he can fix it. And very frankly, looking you in the eye, he freely admits this will not be justice - but he can get you a deal you can live with and the nightmare you have been experiencing every moment of every day will be over.

A deal you can live with, and the nightmare will be over.

That's the subtext of the Obama campaign.


  1. Brilliant - you've nailed it.

    Given the current state of electoral politics, and in the wake of a presidency whose main energies were devoted to subverting the Constitution, a "deal I can live" with sounds just about right.

  2. thanks dave; yes, one can't turn it down now.