Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Tag: obama

Mutts like me

In an his first press briefing as president-elect, Barack Obama referred to shelter dogs as “mutts like me.” Apart from the bracing self-deprecation, that offhand remark resonates for many Americans, who consider themselves mutts and are proud of it. Indeed, in a melting-pot society, what could be more American than being a mutt?

There’s some sublime conceptual jiu-jiutsu in this phrase. The enlightened position is that race is a cultural construction. We know that there is more genetic diversity among the members of one race than between races, and the lines separating one race from another are arbitrary. For America’s first black president and first biracial president—the fact that both of these are valid statements reinforces the arbitrariness of race—to identify himself in this way turns his race, which could be a point of division, into a point of commonality.

I like that. I decided it should be on T-shirts. And now it is. Go get yourself one.

The text is set in Gotham, the typeface used in Obama’s campaign materials. The dog is Suki, and I worked up the image from a photo taken by my friend and his person, Casey.

We won—now what?

It’s been hard for me to organize my thoughts about this election, and I won’t even try to cram them all into one blog post. Suffice to say I am very pleased with the outcome.

The big question in my mind is “now what?” When Bush was re-elected in 2004 with a razor-slim margin in both the popular and electoral vote, he claimed a mandate; he and his party were remarkably corrupt and high-handed in government. Obama has been elected with a healthy margin in the popular vote and a near-landslide in the electoral vote, despite which he is taking a conciliatory, cautious tone. But he was elected on a message of change, and right now, with national and world events such as they are, change is going to happen—the question is whether he’ll be engineering the changes or be tossed around by them. Hope has gotten him this far. Now is the time for audacity.

When one party has had the run of Congress and the White House, they’ve tended to overreach and then get beat down in short order. One time when this conspicuously was not the case was during the Great Depression, when one party in the legislative and executive took bold action that was met with public approval. Everyone in the news telling us that our current economic peril is like nothing since that time.

And then there’s the Republicans. Shortly before the election, I wrote a comment on Metafilter that when the GOP is reduced to a bunch of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world populists, it becomes self-limiting and easy to dismiss. If the USA had a GOP that stood mainly for things like limited government and fiscal responsibility—Eisenhower Republicans, you could say—it might bring something useful to the table.

Having lost the presidency and seen their contingents in the House and Senate reduced, the GOP is now in the introspection and wound-licking mode. One might hope that those Eisenhower Republicans would stand up and guide their party back to sanity. As Paul Krugman predicted, one would be disappointed. I had previously thought of RedState as one of the saner right-wing community sites. And they’re not as frothingly mad as, say, Free Republic (where some members were suggesting that Obama killed his own grandmother), but it is clear they have allied themselves with what we might call the Palin wing of the GOP: anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world, and from what I’ve read, party leaders are headed in that direction as well. If this really happens, it guarantees that the party will marginalize itself not only in terms of its representation in Washington, but in terms of its relevance to the country at large and questions of policy. Politics benefits from multiple viewpoints, but only when all of those viewpoints are founded on informed, open-minded, and reality-based positions.

The Democrats are not going to have a supermajority in the Senate, so the Republicans there may choose to gum up the works with filibusters. They may choose to sit back and watch while the Democrats screw things up (or so they will hope). They may not be able to filibuster at all if a few of their more moderate members decide to play along with the Democrats and the Democrats manage to maintain party unity. There may even be a few party-switchers coming over the to Democrats, as there were going the other way following the Republican revolution in 1994. If the GOP takes a more dogmatic tilt, this seems likely.

There’s a lot of work for Obama to do. There’s a lot that his supporters are expecting from him. And there may be little standing in the way of his taking bold action. He’s already made history and moved the country forward simply by being elected. I hope he keeps the momentum up.

Absolution

For the last eight years, I and a lot of other Americans have looked at our president as the unembarrassed standard-bearer of so much that is wrong with American politics: privilege, dynastism, cronyism, corruption, secrecy. He’s even managed to borrow some of the unseemly aspects of East German politics. And we have felt ashamed of our country.

And then there’s Barack Obama. Just the existence of a candidate like Obama says that American ideals like plurality, tolerance, and opportunity still mean something. Perhaps some of Obama’s popularity is not because of his potential as a president, but because he lets us feel better about ourselves.

When I vote for Obama in two weeks, it won’t be because of that. But it’s a nice bonus.

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