Monday, July 07, 2008

Bitter truths

Charles P. Pierce's essay in Esquire about the Obama candidacy is one of the finest I've read so far. Of course, it helps that I share Pierce's take on Obama's discourse, and the fact that it's basically giving Americans a free-pass card (change without sacrifice, easy charisma over bitter pill). My main qualm is that Pierce's rhetorical gimmicks get a bit grating after a while, but it's easy enough to overlook them and focus on the ideas themselves.

What I like best about this piece is the rage and disappointment that run through it—not at Obama or other politicians, which would be too easy, but at the American people themselves. For despite all the talk about freedom and democracy, Americans do no exercise their most basic rights and do not fulfill their most basic duties as citizens, including voting and holding their elected representatives accountable. But hey, freedom is being able to drive your big-ass car wherever and whenever you want, right?

Pierce comes down harshly on Obama for feeding us bromides about the country's greatness: "The cynic will admit that it’s all great politics. Tell America that it is a great country that simply has lost its way for a spell. Tell the American people that they are a great people who are better than those hucksters who come to divide us. It has a marvelous anesthetic appeal. Swirl down through the clouds of memory and forget that the country allowed itself to follow George Bush over the cliff not merely because it was shocked by the attacks of September 11, 2001, but because it was too pissing-down-the-shoes scared to do anything else. Forget about how eagerly the American people cheered the brutish and the nasty, how simple it was to sell raw animal vengeance dressed up as geopolitical wisdom, and how dumbly everyone followed until well after it was revealed that the people selling it didn’t know enough about the world to throw to a cat. This was the era of complicity. Can Obama end it, thought the cynic, without admitting it ever existed?"

"Why would anyone have faith in America, which is not tough but fearful, not smart but stupid, and not shrewd but willing to fall for almost anything as long it comes wrapped in a flag? Why would anyone have faith in Americans? Barack Obama says that he has that faith because of his own life, because he was able to rise to the point where he can be thought of as president of the United States. He is the country’s walking absolution. That’s his reason, the cynic thinks, but it’s not mine. There has to be confession. There has to be penance. Being Barack Obama is not enough. Not damn close to enough."

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