“Cynicism is intellectual dandyism without the coxcomb’s feathers.”
– George Meredith
There is nothing of any import that I could possibly add to the heaps of commentary about Barack Hussein Obama being inaugurated as the 44th American president. I don’t need to tell you how great this is for black people or, more interestingly, how great this is for white people.
I have no innovative way to look at all this. But I have a warning.
Over the last week or so, I have taken upon myself the responsibility of breaking awkward silences by asking of those present, “So what do you think of this Obama guy?”
Generally, people break into a conversation about how great it’s going to be for the Bush presidency to finally be over, how reluctant their parents were to vote for him, how cute the Obama girls are, etc. But then there’s always one person. And how I loathe that person.
She’s the girl who thinks she’s being so chic by being preemptively, and vapidly, cynical. She – the same girl who bought a Black Sabbath shirt at Urban Outfitters and cannot name three of their songs – looks around and sees everyone else praising him and being genuinely excited, and she can’t stand it.
It’s the same thing that happened when Vampire Weekend got big. She was a big fan, but then everyone else saw them on MTV2. Suddenly Vampire Weekend sucked. (They actually do and always did.)
This is my fear: empty, watery cynicism is going to become the next big thing. Hating Obama in 2009 – for no reason except that everyone else adores him – is going to become loving Fleet Foxes in 2008.
Don’t you get me wrong. People have gone way overboard, and to an outrageous extent.
Arianna Huffington, whom I personally consider the Antichrist of the Fourth Estate, wrote a syndicated column titled, “We’re all being inaugurated on Jan. 20.” I beg to differ, ma’am. Ben & Jerry’s inaugurated a new flavour, “Yes Pecan!,” which their web site describes as “amber waves of buttery ice cream with roasted non-partisan pecans.” And we have the headline of the New York Times, which I’m unfortunately going to be obligated to show my grandkids, proclaiming, “Obama Takes Oath, and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment.” (Just the news, thanks.)
But Obamamania has always been cheap. We see him in Philadelphia giving a very mediocre speech, whose goal was only to temporarily keep Jeremiah Wright’s ugly face off my TV for a couple months, and it’s lauded as opening a whole new chapter in America’s ongoing conversation about race.
During the general election we saw him backpedal on an awfully lot of issues that he had used to define himself during the primaries, i.e. wiretapping, campaign contributions, the right to bear arms, capital punishment, Iraq troop withdrawals, faith-based initiatives, abortion restrictions. And yet no one on the left batted an eye.
One of my high school classmates had a Facebook status Tuesday morning that read, “fuck yeah Obamas [sic] our president.” Do you think she’s aware of those aforementioned flip-flops? Do you think she knows Obama’s policy on admitting Georgia into NATO? Or how about an easier one: do you think she can name his Treasury Secretary-designate? Doubtful.
But then the pendulum swings the other way, and we have Steven Stark in the Boston Phoenix comparing Obama unfavourably with Socrates.
Please, don’t let yourselves be seduced by some ahead-of-the-curve, unfounded idolatry, or cynicism. He is not a brand that you like or don’t like. He is not an indie rock band that you were into before they got cool. Pay attention to his policies, his personnel, and his pragmatism. And form your own damn judgment.
Obama’s inauguration does not mark the end of irony. At the same time, let’s not ruin our chances here for real change. If he screws it up, let’s hold him accountable. If he pulls it off, here’s to him.
Ricky’s column appears every Monday. Test the man’s Sabbath knowledge at firstname.lastname@example.org. Word around Rez is he only knows “Iron Man.”