Just the other day I was driving home behind a jeep with a "Got hope?" bumper sticker. (And really, who ever could have guessed that the "got milk?" thing would have such legs? This may just have been the last halting step, however. Can we sink a 12-year-old advertising meme that leaked into the popular consciousness? Yes we can!) To underscore what they were talking about, the sticker had Obama's goofy crop-circle logo as the dot of the question mark.
Now, I do have hope. It's in Jesus Christ and not any phony-baloney politico; that's a big reason why I can get on with my life no matter how an election turns out, while the folks across the aisle tend to flip their wigs instead. They've got too much invested in it to do anything else. I'm not even thinking primarily of the last eight years, either, though the seething fury of it all was at turns entertaining and nauseating. I'm thinking of how the Left tends to act when they win. Compromise, reach across the aisle? Heh. Not so much, actually. They make noise like that until they don't have to anymore, such as when they have all three branches of the government under their sway.
As an example, I'd like to quote the Big O's valedictory speech from Grant Park. (Sorry.)
To those who would tear the world down: we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: tonight, we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.
Now, that almost sounds like something George W Bush would say - I approve of the sentiment (with certain caveats). But a nagging part of me suspects that this part of the speech was not directed at foreign dictators, terrorists, or other enemies of our country. I'm pretty sure that "we will defeat you" is meant for the GOP. Obama's entire professional life has been geared toward working against political adversaries. The goal was to win - above all else, to make sure that a particular side was given charge of things. I'm not sure that he's capable of changing his mental outlook from that of a partisan campaigner to that of a leader and officeholder. Most of the Congress, in fact, fails at doing that, so it's not a knock on the Democratic Party per se, just a description of reality. Being out in the everyday working world lends a perspective that career politicians sometimes lack; it's an accomplishment to win one's living in the world, and an accomplishment to work fruitfully at things one enjoys and is skilled at. Producing good work of any kind is a challenge that teaches people a lot about themselves, about how to get along with people, about what works in the real world and what doesn't.
Beyond winning elections at many levels, Obama's actual accomplishments are slender. Nobody seems to know what he did, exactly, while editing the Harvard Law Review. His college years are nearly a blank. A veil has been drawn over a lot of what he did while community organizing and state Senatoring. The things we do know aren't really highlights: getting his wife's employer a bit of government sugar, for which said employer tripled her salary; voting present instead of yea or nay on nearly everything except his "nay" to protecting infant survivors of abortion attempts; and willingly associating for most of his adult life with racist preachers and domestic terrorists. The people who knew him then aren't talking AT ALL, which is odd on many levels - he's only 47, so it's not like the people aren't around, and if they like him and think he did good work, why wouldn't they say so? For that matter, why wouldn't Obama himself say so?
The bumper sticker outlines the most peculiar thing about this recently-concluded election: I'm being asked to hope in a complete cipher. The man wrote two memoirs, and yet nobody knows much about him. He acted as if it was wrong to dare to ask about what he'd done before and planned to do after. But hope has to be about something. Why vote for a man who won't tell you what he plans to do if he wins, and won't tolerate your asking what he did when he won in the past?
At least with "the man from Hope" we actually did know about the things he'd done as Arkansas governor. Bill Clinton had a lengthy public record and talked about it; the parts that weren't so hot, he spun or glossed, but he didn't react as if someone had jabbed him with a branding iron when he was questioned. You'd think that Obama would be similarly proud of whatever he's been doing for 25 or so years since college. It's quite likely that he knows that if he ever owns his true record, he would be through as a national figure; hence it must be hidden.
Besides, it's more fun to play Secular Messiah. Got hope? Of course. He's also got the truly creepy singing-kids cult video, a collection of sacrosanct relics to rival any canonized saint's, the Andy Warhol-meets-Soviet iconography posters, he's even all over the sports pages lately. Hey, if Bill Simmons wants to vote for the guy, cool - he can even lead a column with the quote I used above (and that's where I quoted it from). I can deal with it. Some observations, however -
1. Quick, name a conservative sports columnist. There are some, of course, but do you know or care how a sportswriter votes? No. But now name as many sportswriters you can who lean left, or who you know voted Democratic because they wrote about it. Tons, right? Half (at least) of Page 2; Rick Reilly, Peter King; you could list dozens of local examples yourselves if so inclined.
2. The NBA, under the direction of David Stern, is now a global brand, hugely popular across the Earth with people from every continent and ethnicity. There are Russian and European and Asian and American (North AND South) and African and Australian NBA players, often stars. It was a niche sport when he first joined the front office, and now it's a global brand and a part of mainstream society. So why all of a sudden is Barack Obama so important to basketball? Not to be outdone, he's also enlightening the sports world in general.
Part of this I get - Barack Obama is the first black man to be elected President of the United States. That is a big deal, and I fully appreciate the magnitude of it... but I will be much more impressed if, having gotten to the Oval Office, he is treated exactly the same as his predecessors. Letting him get into the office with nearly no scrutiny is a bad early sign; criticizing any scrutinizers is a worse one. Talking about how his very presence changes everything continues this trend. In fact it is an attitude much more in keeping with how people feel about religious figures, not politicians - hence the Secular Messiah and Son of Government tags I've been using. I'm not trying to label, but the cult of personality developing around the President-elect is alarming, and would be in connection to any politician. Remember the Caesars - they went pretty quickly from being merely powerful rulers, to being elevated to godhood upon their deaths, to demanding to be called gods while alive. The whispered warning, "Remember that thou art mortal," soon fails to hold any power - how can it, when the one who hears it can put to death the one who whispers it, at whim and without consequence? Soon enough, people learn better than to whisper at all. Nobody from Obama's past will talk about the guy - even positively.
And the worst thing about voting for a guy as if one was coronating a Caesar is that as long as the focus on on who he is, nobody's likely to pay much attention to what he's doing, least of all the Caesar himself. How can he? His focus will rather be on maintaining his image as One Set Apart. Serve oneself and one cannot serve any ideal, least of all the ones that Obama praised in that speech. If the true strength of America is in our ideals, then the worst thing Americans can do is put them aside to elect as a leader one who cares only for how they sound as words, not for what they mean as principles.
That brings us back around to the caveat I mentioned. To wit: liberty, opportunity, and hope all have a source in virtues that Obama really doesn't talk about. They spring from the same source as life itself, a subject so dear to Obama that he says it's "above his pay grade" to decide when it begins. (Apparently it's more the pay grade of confused and terrified teenagers; it's so important that they must not discuss it with clergy or parents, but only with abortionists, who have an economic stake in shoving them toward a particular conclusion.) The source is God. The Creator made us, and thus the rights He gives are beyond the whim of men, no matter how many laws they make or what power they command.
I am thus skeptical of politics as the sole means of "change" in society, especially the politics of those who drive the mention of God from the public forum, and the politics of those who use their faiths as arguments against life, liberty, opportunity, and the fruit of one's own labor, thus undermining the very thing on which those rights rely. People nearly shrieked about President Bush's open faith, just as Chris Matthews is shrieking about Sarah Palin's faith. But those who have that faith are much more likely to correctly understand and protect the rights of the citizens. It's those whose faith is only in themselves or in their personal interest that get those things wrong, and that's the hallmark of the incoming administration.