Hype (written before the Ohio/Texas primaries)

There seems to be this weird disconnect in the media picture of the election campaign. On the one hand, Obama seems already to have been enshrined by the media as the Democratic nominee. All the reporting stresses how he is surging, how enthusiastic his supporters are, how overwhemling his support is, etc. All the reporting on Clinton implies that her campaign is floundering, that she has lost direction, that her candidacy is all over, etc.

And yet, on the other hand: the polls in both Ohio and Texas show a very close race, not a blowout for Obama at all. These primaries could still go either way. I suppose this means Obama is surging relative to two months ago, when he was way behind in both states. But still, a close race in two large states, with Obama only holding a slight edge in already-chosen delegates, does not translate into a juggernaut for Obama and ignoble oblivion for Clinton. If Obama wins Texas and Ohio on Tuesday, then, yes, he is clearly in command and will be the nominee. But if Clinton takes one of these states, or even both — which is very much within the bounds of plausibility — will the media then start to hype Clinton’s “comeback”, and present Obama’s campaign as suddenly deflated (as they did after New Hampshire)?

What stinks here is how the media create drama, by falsely turning slight differences into grandiose all-or-nothing situations. This will ultimately exacerbate those slight distinctions, stoke the fires of bitterness, and as a result undermine the Democratic campaign in the fall no matter which is the nominee.

This ties in also to the overall worry I have about Obama. Considering how charismatic he is, and how much enthusiasm he arouses in his followers, why is it that (contrary to the media picture) he is not in fact leading by a blowout? Since Hillary has absolutely no appeal whatsoever to anybody aside from Gloria Steinem and a few old-line party hacks, how is it that her campaign is still (for the moment at the least, and despite the negative media hype) viable? It can only be by default — that people support her not for any positive reasons, but simply because they reject Obama: either because they are racist, or because they hate young people, or because they are afraid of “change” (however vague) and find politics-as-usual reassuring, or simply because they haven’t bought into the Obama hype machine (which is, unavoidably, creating its own backlash, via the snarky comments popping up recently about how it is like a cult, etc.).

So what worries me is that there are such definite limits to how far Obamamania can go. I am immune to it, but I support him anyway. On the other hand, nearly everyone I know (immediate family excepted) has been infected by the Obama meme to some extent at least. But my friends and acquaintances are hardly a representative sample of American voters. I strongly suspect that Obamamania doesn’t extend far enough: that all those affluent suburban white people who moved to the ‘burbs to get away from black people, and voted for Bush twice, will never accept Obama; that most of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” will end up supporting the “patriotism” (warmongering) of McCain over Obama’s mantra of “change”; that among white people, it is only the bourgie liberals and the Oprah-loving soccer moms who will vote for Obama, while the vast majority of white people in the “heartland” will reject him. (While white Obama supporters congratulate themselves on being “beyond race,” lots of other white voters will reject Obama on grounds of “inexperience” or “naivete,” all the while swearing that of course their voting against him has nothing to do with his being black). Obama’s current lead in the polls against McCain is meaningless so long before the general election.

By the way, if Clinton thinks that the media favor Obama over her, she ain’t seen nothing yet — just wait until the media’s dramatization and amplification of Republican slanders against either Obama or Clinton overwhelms everything else in the fall. By election day, the only issues having any presence will be the ’08 version of swiftboating. The campaign will turn into either a desperate attempt by Clinton to convince voters that she is not a lesbian, or a desperate attempt by Obama to convince voters that he is not a Muslim.

In other words, we are probably doomed to another four years of nightmare, with President McCain sending more and more troops abroad, and appointing judges to the Supreme Court who will repeal Roe v. Wade. My hunch at this point is that, come Election Day, it won’t even be close. (Of course, I admit that I have always held to Jerry Lewis’ maxim: “expect the worst, and then you will never be disappointed.”)

13 Responses to “Hype (written before the Ohio/Texas primaries)”

  1. Roshan says:

    While I share your skepticism of Obama supporters, I think the problem is smaller than you present it. I saw on economist on tv who said something to the effect of, “politics isn’t for transcendance. if you want transcendance, you go to church or synagogue. that’s not what politics is for.” I agree with that–I support Obama because I think he’s the most positive choice, but the problem with Obama as a “movement” is that “transcendant” politics is inherently dysfunctional. I can’t think of a time in recent history when it was wise to invest the spiritual life of a country in its governmental body, and while Obama supporters may not be literally getting religious in his campaign, the exhuberant language and ecstatic feeling produced by supporters may prove to be poorly placed. Those who are approaching the election in sobriety will be fine.

  2. kirbyolson2 says:

    The Democrats are something like Hotspur’s faction in Henry IV. They are a welter of splinter groups that don’t really like each other or trust each other, and the slightest things set them off against one another. (Owen Glendower’s refusal to show up in the final battle against Henry IV is reminiscent of the fears you have that Obama or Clinton supporters won’t show up for one another, if one faction or another seems to get dominance.)

    The Republicans are like Henry IV’s army. They are numerically smaller but they are more unified, and they are thinking about the country rather than about the fortunes of their own faction. They put their differences aside and strongly identify with their parents.

    McCain always shows up with his mother, and his father is always by his side.

    Neither Obama nor Clinton appear to have parents. They never mention them. The Democrats have a kind of it’s all about me orientation. Lineage matters a lot more to the Republicans. You get the sense with McCain that he cares a tremendous amount what his ancestors would think of him. The Republicans have deep roots. The Democrats just have fashionable whims and are therefore more attractive to the young.

    But McCain isn’t that different from a centrist Democrat. McCain thinks stem-cell research should go forward, he wants amnesty for 12 million Mexicans, abortion is hardly any kind of big deal for him and is certainly not a priority, he doesn’t care one way or another about gay marriage (it’s seen as a states’ rights issue by him), and so he’s not very far from the Democrats, anyways. The one place he’s different is that he won’t surrender to Al Qaida. As a military leader he will see the casualties within a bigger picture.

    There were 30,000 northern casualties at Gettsyburg (3 days in July, 1863). That’s nearly ten times what this whole war has cost. In the first battle of the American Revolution Washington lost 4,000 men in the Battle of Brooklyn. Like Washington, or Lincoln, McCain won’t surrender.

    About 75 percent of Republicans support the war effort in Iraq.

    About 75% of white men in America have voted for the Republican party since the days of Carter, and Carter’s wishy-washiness during the Iranian Revolution. It’s not about race, though. That same 75% would go for Condoleeza Rice, or for Colin Powell. It’s a question of ideology. The Republicans are patriarchs. Principles matter, and they’re handed from generation to generation. Self-sacrifice is the norm.

    The Democrats are matriarchs. For them, having a good time is all that matters. (Bachofen spells this out in Mutterrecht.)

  3. Tom says:

    Uhm Kirby…
    “The one place he’s different is that he won’t surrender to Al Qaida.”
    Did you not recently state in your blog that Obama is not that worrisome on national security as he would send drones into Waziristan after high profile targets? I think he actually stated he would propose more force than that. If we take this reasong away, then where does your criticism stand?
    By the way, Bush was a serious partier; he is no stranger to “having a good time.”

  4. kirbyolson2 says:

    Al Qaida in Iraq, I should have said. Ok?

    They’re now in Iraq. They weren’t there when Bush went in, but now they’re there.

    And if we leave, we are surrendering to them there, in Iraq.

    Sorry about the confusion.

  5. kirbyolson2 says:

    Also, Tom, you shift tenses in your sentence on Bush.

    He WAS a serious partier; he IS no stranger to having a good time.

    Like Henry Vth (seemingly the prototype for all Republican candidates), he partied in his youth, and then aligned himself with his dad, and got serious.

  6. Ken says:

    Kirby, I don’t know exactly how to say this politely, but I will try. Your type of Shakespeare analogies — while certainly enjoying a current vogue in various popular publications — are, well, just off. For instance, Henry V was dead well before he turned 40 when W. supposedly had his “conversion” experience and, as you say, got “serious.” Even if one accounts for differences in lifespan, etc., a favorite pasttime of Shakespearean dilettantes when dealing with the topic of young love in Romeo and Juliet, the analogy breaks down — it breaks down even as a bloggish quip. And as Shakespeare’s Henry V makes clear, the playwright and his world never fully recovered from the guilt of living in the wake of Henry IV/Bolingbroke’s “unified” army’s murder of the more poetic and contemplative Richard II. I don’t mean to discourage you or anyone else from attending to Shakespeare — a brilliant theorist when it comes to understanding angry young men of privilege.

  7. Tom says:

    Actually Al Qaida did exist in Northern Iraq. Ironically, they were protected from Saddam by the no-fly zone courtesy of the American government. I think Bush is still having a good time; the content that constitutes a “good time” has shifted. I am curious about the “fashionable whims” of the Democrats. Torture is in fashion now, will Obama embrace it? Illegal wiretapping? Imperial resource grabs? Paying off tribal leaders to play ball? It seems like the thirties are back in fashion again and we are subject to the whims of a post-alcoholic religious fanatic.

  8. kirbyolson2 says:

    Ken, the analogy isn’t perfect — afterall, W. isn’t Henry Vth, but there’s a pattern that one can see — first playing about, and then joining up with dad.

    And both dad’s play a tainted role in their son’s lives. But this isn’t about sainthood. It’s about politics.

    Saints are martyred in politics pretty quick.

  9. Yusef says:

    “McCain always shows up with his mother, and his father is always by his side.

    Neither Obama nor Clinton appear to have parents. They never mention them. The Democrats have a kind of it’s all about me orientation. Lineage matters a lot more to the Republicans. “–Kirby

    Lineage matters more to the Republicans…True. It appears to me as if the Republicans are attempting to establish a new aristocracy, with transfer of power via royal descent. Hence, George I giving his crown to George II, (but this isn’t from Shakespeare or in the time of the Elizabethans.) I doubt George II would have received his power any other way. Not by his merits, for sure. In my state, Alaska, our Republican senator Frank Murkowski made his daughter senator by his own decree before retiring. Our other Republican senator, Ted Stevens, is doing everything in his power to do the same for his son, Ben Stevens. This is proving to be more difficult than he’d imagined — old Ben is involved in the biggest corruption scandal in this state’s history. Nevertheless, I won’t be surprised if it is only a matter of a delay and an inconvenience; even though Ben is at the very center of the scandal, he has yet to be indicted.

    I don’t precisely remember the details of Barack’s biographical history — did he ever live with his dad? Is his dad even alive?

    Bill Clinton hardly knew his own father — he died while Bill was still an infant, I believe.

    As we all know, both McCain’s father and grandfather were full admirals in the US Navy. McCain is married to a very wealthy woman whose father is probably most responsible for McCain’s political success.

    Lineage mattering more to Republicans — this looks to me more like a facet of wealth and privilege than anything an American citizen should regard as a virtue.

    As far as your statement that the dems have more of an “it’s all about me” orientation, get off. The train stop for Idiotsville was five miles back. Everything the Republicans have done for the last eight years has been self-serving and it has run the country into a ditch. Next thing you’ll be telling us is that Republicans are for fiscal responsibility and the Dems are “tax and spend.”

  10. Yusef says:

    I do remember Hillary dropping out of the Washington political scene for an extended period of time to be at her father’s bedside during his final days. She was a devoted daughter, and she cares about her family. Incredible she be impugned on that basis.

  11. Kirby Olson says:

    On p. 223 of the Audacity of Hope Barack Obama says he is against Gay Marriage.

  12. darkdaughta says:

    Hi there,
    I appreciated you being able to be critical of the democratic race even as you claim the fact that you’re voting for Obama. I think there is a way that folks in blogland can be so either or that there ends up being no space for critical conversations about the political. It’s a stunted approach to dealing with the issues which leaves no space to break down what we’re fed, who is doing the feeding and how we choose to intentionally and consciously engage with whatever it is we choose to swallow. It seems that many blogger seem scandalized by this approach to envisioning the political. It’s so sad. It just makes for really stupid conversations where each “side” has a club and bangs the other “side” over the head with it while screaming “is too!” “is not!”. Even though your original intent for this post seems to have been sidelined by people who prefer binary polarity to layered, complex engagement with any given issues, I still want to let you know that I appreciated what you tried to do with this post. Thanks.

  13. donald says:

    Quick comment, I found your blog looking for something on Deleuze and Whitehead, and I happened to skim this entry and the responses.

    I have a great deal of interest in the Obama campaign and a great deal of hope for it, and so I think there a few point y’all aren’t addressing, especially as regards his popularity among young people.

    Obama is attracting the same sort of crowd as Howard Dean, though more effectively and more skillfully, and so I think everyone’s focus on Obama’s charisma is wildly misplaced. Howard Dean is not a charismatic speaker or figurehead, and he certainly wasn’t one in his presidential run. And yet, their funding streams are similar, their rhetoric is similar, and their enthusiastic base is similar. So forget for a moment these comments about Obama’s charisma (because honestly, a lot of that is hot air isn’t it? I mean the man stands up and gives 40 minute introductory lectures on the history of American financial regulation). He has the same basic appeal as Dean- he’s an outsider insurgent candidate, relatively speaking, and he’s phrasing his campaign in the vein of civic populism.

    This is very easy folks. Young people who’ve grown up during an insane unending war that their elders keep blasting as absurd and wrong yet do nothing to stop it, want desperately, desperately that their nation can be better than it seems to be. Young progressives want something better than the world carved out between militarists and sweatshops, and the enthusiasm is coming less from the politicians and more from that desire. I’m sorry it’s so simple and crude and innocent, but doesn’t it make sense? The economy is lurching from systemic corruption, we’re in a war without purpose and seemingly without end, and yet people simply accept and fuss about it a little, and go on with their routines. The enthusiasm young progressives have for Obama comes from frustration more than anything else.

    And the most interesting question isn’t why it’s occurring or if Obama deserves this investment of hope. It’s what will happen to that sentiment if he wins. Will he be able to control it? I honestly think that it might move beyond the ability any campaign to control.

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