Saturday, January 15, 2011

I don't think I actually have a point to this post. I tried, but lost it somewhere.

There's been a lot of discussion centered around Obama's speech at the Tuscon Memorial Wednesday night, some of it interesting in terms of the impact it will or won't have or the nit-picky linguistics of it, and some of it of the useless "Ha ha he told your side off/nuh-uh he told your side off" variety.

Some is more of the "Hey, there's that guy I voted for" angle. tristero over at hullaballo does this, looking at the speech and realizing that he this was the same Obama s/he recognized from the presidential campaign, the same Obama that has an uncanny yet masterful ability to make his opponents look petty and immature:

I also noticed these things during the campaign, and until I understood what was going on, it drove me (not to mention many other people) almost crazy with despair. But I think it ultimately played a central, if usually unheralded, role in Obama's spectacular victory. I’m talking about Obama's uncanny skill at setting traps for his political opponents, traps in which they themselves - ie, not Obama - act foolishly or so otherwise poorly that they disqualify themselves as serious opponents, who emerges from these fiascos looking not only like the only rational choice but, more emotionally, as the only conceivable choice.

I caught on to this during his campaign as well, and found it pretty impressive. Every time I'd get a bit nervous back in 2008, or think that this was it, this was going to be the next right-wing "scandal" freshly pulled from their collective asses that puts McCain in the White House, Obama was not only able to bounce back immediately, but turn it around on it's head so that it played badly for his political opponents instead. The "scandal" with Pastor Wright turned into one of Obama's best moments of the 2008 election, his "A More Perfect Union" speech. When it came out that this was actually something Obama himself had written, only the night before, it cast him in an even more impressive light and made his detractors come off as even more irrational and bitter. (What I see) as the biggest threat to his campaign, in other words, turned out to be his strongest moment.

tristero continues:

Exactly how Obama does it is unclear to me. I know that his timing is very unusual, radically so within the current political context. He responds slowly to crises, and very, very calmly. This was, and is, very unnerving to me as an observer; I can only imagine how it struck a hothead like McCain who was directly affected by it. But surely there are other things he does to help bait and spring traps to hoist enemies on their own petard.

I've puzzled over this as well, but for different reasons. Mainly, this guy was a powerhouse during the campaign. And then he took office, and fell flat. It seemed very inconsistent with what I saw on the campaign trail. But I think tristero answers his own question here - what is consistent is Obama's calm approach to these events. Of course, I rather think it overall describes a major difference between the two parties as well. "Go with the gut" has long been preferred to rational decision making ever since we decided as a country to turn our backs on intellectual pursuits. And instead go with feelings.

So I think that is all there is to it. And I don't really think it's a calculated ploy. It's just who the President is. Most Republicans (or at the very least, Movement Conservatives) don't seem to have this same disposition when it comes to politics. Instead, there's a tendency to appeal to and rely on emotional reactions in everything instead of logic. As a result, we don't get a conversation that is actually useful to the country, we get some nasty snips of attack fodder to throw at those we dislike. In the health care debate, for example, the main sticking point against it wasn't exactly based in controlling costs, but instead whether or not Nancy Pelosi wanted to strangle your grandmother.

With our current media, that emotional grab can be beneficial. It's about winning news cycles, something that the Republicans have been very successful at. If you have the best sounding soundbite, that's what people are going to remember - advertisement figured this out eons ago. Americans often seem to have the attention span and memory of a goldfish when it comes to politics, and as such, the slower, thought-out approach doesn't always work; People just don't have the time or patience to listen to someone explain the complexities of hospice care or default credit swaps. Particularly if they don't feel it has a direct connection to their own lives. But it is an immature way to deal with the country's issues, and I feel that when the public thinks something really matters, it's not going to appeal to them as much as a solid, rational voice will.

Because when these news cycles stick around for longer then a few days, that is when those that are relying on the inattention of the public get into trouble. People that don't follow politics as obsessively as someone like myself still tune in every four years for the presidential election; even if it is somewhat of a sick reality show the public is still invested in the characters. And obviously, everyone was paying attention to what happened in Arizona last weekend, because if there is a national crisis, people start to tune in.

Republicans, while very good at creating fake crises out of thin air, aren't as adept at confronting real crises. This was most striking to me during the protests in Iran during 2009. While McCain was running around screaming his fool head off about how Obama has to say something, stick up for the protesters, Obama did nothing of the sort. He couldn't, you see. The second Obama said something like "America stands with the protesters", what did you reasonably expect would happen to those protesters? That Iran would suddenly say, "Oh, our bad, America!" and embrace their cause? Not at all. They would have been killed. Because at that point, once Obama connected the protesters (which the Iranians were sympathetic to) with America (which Iranians are most definitely not sympathetic to), it's all over for them. It's not the people of Iran against the government of Iran anymore, it's the government of the United States against the government of Iran. It was probably difficult, because really, how could you not feel for those protesters?

But the truth is, it would of only served to make us feel better to go all cowboy tough-guy on Iran's ass. We like simplicity. We like having bad guys that we can point fingers at. We like screaming FUCK YOU as a cathartic release when the frustration becomes too much. These things, irrational as they are, are enjoyable for us personally. They feel good to do. But beneficial as a whole? Not so much. Obama, being not a reactive but more of a reflective person, was able to see this for what it was. I've had many "man, we dodged a bullet" moments since Obama took office. This was the strongest one. I truly believe that had that election gone differently, we would be at war with Iran.

Unfortunately, the talking points to discredit a more rational approach have already been set in stone for decades now, that the more rational approach is the bad approach. The pussified approach. The snobby approach. That Obama is able to have success in taking the rational approach is promising, but I think its just that his approach is more effective depending on the situation. I doubt it will have an impact beyond his own presidency.

And I'm just rambling at this point. I had a point, I think I had like five, but whatever. At any rate - it's not a surprise that Obama is able to make his political opponents sound foolish when he chooses to do so. It's just how the different ideologies are set up to be sold, and depending on the situation, sadly either can be successful.

1 comment:

Better Orange Than Dead said...

Well put. I've been looking for the same point for a couple years myself. We've finally found a cool-headed, calculated rationalist.. and it seems to terrify 'us' (guttists?).