Smile Politely


Did he just get snippy with me? Which has never happened in the twenty years we have known each other. Not even almost. I said I was voting for Obama, and he called me “naive.”

What? Sure. And why not?

And then when I tried to continue the discussion over email, I got the gentleman’s version of the silent treatment.

Doug Henwood in the snotty Left Business Observer, or Naomi Klein in her generous talk last night, concede that, while Obama isn’t radical enough — a point I will return to — he has catalyzed a sense of belonging and hope, belonging, and forward (“progressive”) motion among young voters. I guess that’s me.

Radical enough? To be a better candidate for president of the United States in 2008 than John McCain and Sarah Palin? What are we even talking about?

Except I guess we can’t talk about it. So I get to have our conversations in my head.

L: He’s a “centrist.” (quotes to indicate derision)

W: That’s precisely the position. Because if you believe in this institution and structure at all, then it is the job of the President to try to be the mean (not the median) of every voter’s concern. That includes racists and worse, billionaires and worse, and what we uppity academics who read Henwood, Klein, Chomsky, Lakoff and McChesney concede are some serious victims of media manipulation. And fraudulent Republican moral populism. And worse. And if you don’t retain a shred of hope for the structure or the system, then your industry of criticism isn’t political. It might be you acting out a sense of alienation or bitterness or superiority. It might be you hitting the nail on the head – the system is unsalvageable. Perhaps. But our conversation is salvageable. For sure. Our friendship is salvageable. I think. Our disagreement – if having hope vs. not having hope is a disagreement – is the stuff of good times and worthwhile afternoons over coffee.

L: There’s no difference between Obama and McCain.

W: The beauty of that assertion is that it is unprovable. If I understand the rules of logic, you can’t prove that something, like a difference, doesn’t exist. So, even though your statement is false to anybody with a working nervous system, it now falls to your listener to patiently list the hundreds of ways those two people might be different.

I have a good feeling about Obama.

L: People had a good feeling about Hitler.

W: Hitler analogies are a rhetorical move so overused as to be entirely empty. If you can’t tell the difference between an Obama infomercial and Triumph of the Will (even without any working fluency in German), then… we’re done here.

If I can’t respond to a gut feeling about the goodness of someone, as I am by having this (imaginary) conversation with you, then I’m without the anchor that allows me to care, without the root from which all worthwhile thought and behavior flowers.

A good feeling about someone. That’s really what all this is about. Politics starts in our hearts, our homes, our streets, our libraries. The way Republicans, Democrats, Radical Curmudgeons and Libertarians and I smile at each other on the street, in lines, over counters, at the farmer’s market. How I like to try to make strangers chuckle. How we can always talk about the weather or introduce our dogs, just to show that America is held together by the glue of courtesy, mutual respect, caring, kindness. To show that we have a good feeling about each other, or are willing to act as though we do in order to assert that having a good feeling is the norm, the standard, the way it would be. You’d never know that this nasty country is made up of these sweet people.

Are you saying that Obama isn’t radical enough for these sweet people? Or are you just saying that you are like way sexy-radical? Because I agree. You are, he isn’t. You are right. I mean correct. You are exactly what we need in order to, as Klein says, move the centrist by moving the center. Obama’s just a Harvard-educated lawyer, bestselling author (of books this expert finds pretty solid), United States Senator, wildly loved, with a gift for elocution, and damn if he isn’t something of a looker, but not in your sexy-radical way. In more of a pressed suit and flag pin way. Still. Reasonable that any of us should be annoyed. He’s a pretty damn classy centrist.

I want a permanent end to war as the primary end of any foreign policy. And then we can get down to the real work of meeting basic human needs on a global scale.

I believe that I am not the only one who wants this, even if Obama’s election year language to discuss U.S. intervention in Iraq tends more toward words like “mistake” than “murder,” “timeline for withdrawal” instead of “never ever ever ever ever again.”

Obama: “Thou shalt not kill.”

Take that.

McCain and Palin: “Thou shalt…” Or, You… shouldn’t… Forget it. Never mind.

Not radical enough to be president of the United States in 2008? Come on. It’s not like he’s a candidate for something vital, something that demands a radical approach, an institution that desperately needs to be torn down and rebuilt.

Like poet laureate.

Don’t even talk to me about that.

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