Martin LeFevre: Deconstructing the Obamanon
Deconstructing the Obamanon
There’s a lot of talk about hope going around after Barack Obama’s win in Iowa. If Obama wins in New Hampshire on Tuesday, he said, “I’ll be the next president of the United States.” Hillary, standing next to a devastated Bill, warned voters not to build up “false hopes” by choosing an inexperienced candidate.
Having studied Derrida in grad school, the only thing I remember about it is how no one understands deconstruction. Despite, or because of that fact, a lot of people throw the word around. Nevertheless, at the risk of being clear, let’s deconstruct hope.
To understand why Americans are so infatuated with a blank message of hope, one has to keep two facts in mind. First, how despairing the majority of people are about the conditions in this country; and second, how soaring rhetoric with the cadences of gospel music and black history stir emotions that people desperately want to feel again. But there is something more than that going on here.
As a CNN commentator put it: “In Iowa Americans may have taken the first tiny steps to taking this country back.”
Hope can be a healthy emotional orientation, the needle on the compass of believing that things can be better. ‘False hope’ is investing that feeling in a person or thing that has no chance of delivering the desired result, which is what Hillary is accusing Obama.
What are people hoping for? There is the hope of amorphous ‘change,’ as well as the hope of ‘restoring American leadership in the world.’ These are key elements of both the Obama and Clinton campaigns. For HillBill, the implicit message of course is that with Hillary as president, Bill’s superstar status on the world stage will instantly reconstitute America’s image if they become president again.
In many ways it’s a classic intergenerational struggle between the Clintons and Obama—the nostalgia of older folks vs. youthful vigor and idealism.
But there is shared subtext. Much of the world now believes that we are not a good people, and that strikes to the core self image of Americans. In the latest debate of the Neanderthals in New Hampshire, the Republicans (with the strange exception of Ron Paul) kept talking about “the greatness and goodness of our nation,” as if repeating it and treating it as a given makes it so.
Americans, perhaps as no other people on earth, need to think of themselves as good people. Barack Obama, by virtue of being a black man who doesn’t remind white people of slavery’s past and racism’s present in America, was able to tug at the dormant heartstrings of enough of 95% white Iowa to make history. All this begins to explain the Obama phenomenon (Obamanon) sweeping the nation.
Hope, as Obama points out, does not mean seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. There is certainly the strong tendency for a Disneyland kind of hope in America, based on wishful thinking and empty promises of a forever brighter ‘Tomorrowland.’ This type of hope sets people up for its flip side—despair.
However, one can have hope while still seeing things as they are. Indeed, if you have hope and don’t see things as they are, hope turns into despair.
Hope in the true sense is synonymous with possibility. That’s why, in the land of opportunity, our stultifyingly self-seeking national atmosphere, embodied by the ‘dead-enders’ of the Bush Administration, has generated so much depression.
In a very real sense, the Obama candidacy is about faith more than it is about hope. And faith generates much more serenity in the face of the Bush Administration’s darkness than Hillary’s realism and Edward’s fight.
Indeed, you don’t get the feeling that Obama would be devastated if he lost the nomination, because it would mean that people just weren’t ready for real change. Hillary and Bill, on the other hand, are in it for personal reasons.
These issues go far beyond America, and the throat-catching patriotic rhetoric of Barack Obama, and the vain hope of ‘restoring American leadership in the world.’ After all, such things mean no real transformation at all.
No country exists as an insular, much less isolated entity anymore. Appeals to national unity are necessary, but they clearly aren’t sufficient in the 21st century, even in American presidential politics.
Obama seems to understand that true change doesn’t come from him, but from the people themselves. Are enough Americans actually awakening? If so, we may be reaching the bottom of the spiral of death and decay that has so characterized this country at home and abroad for the last seven years.
The kind of change Obama may be manifesting is one that arises from a revolution in attitude and approach. There is something of putting the cart before the horse in a campaign of faith and hope, but necessarily so.
Where Western civilization is concerned, America has been the caboose of human consciousness. When the caboose is attached to the train however, the train is ready to move.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.