From Drama to Trauma Under Obama?

Flannery O’Connor, one of our great American writers said, “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life, and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

I have two questions:

  • What do Americans expect if Barack Obama becomes our next president?
  • What can Americans expect if Barack Obama becomes our next president?

Obama Headshot

To the first question there are straightforward answers. Just ask the people around you. To the second all we can say is, “We’ll just have to wait and see.” No matter what the answer to number two is, Obama is going to be faced with a serious problem—if he becomes president. He will have to live up to expectations that he has deliberately fostered as a would-be messiah who stands for The Audacity of Hope.

This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to vote for a messiah. Barack is special. Barack is young. Barack is charming. And you know what else? Barack doesn’t make mistakes. Just ask him.

Ask Barack what mistakes he’s made when voting as a Senator. Ask Barack what mistakes he’s made in his circle of associates. Ask Barack what mistakes he’s made about the war in Iraq. He might confess a peccadillo or two. But copping to anything substantive would be a strain on his memory and his self-understanding.

Of course, you can’t ask him these questions. You don’t have the opportunity. But members of the media, who have the opportunity, don’t ask, either. Do you know why? Because we don’t interrogate a messiah.

We should be wary of messianic promises. And that begins with shedding the sentimental dreams we all have of a utopian society. When we cherish messianic expectations we are vulnerable to messianic promises. But we are bound to be disappointed. The higher our hopes when a candidate is sworn in as the next president, the greater our feeling of defeat when it turns out that he has feet of clay. We’ve always known that about candidates for the presidency—until now.

Barack Obama’s campaign has been dramatic. He beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries when she was the presumptive nominee from the beginning. He was received with acclamation by European citizens. He’s raised astonishing amounts of money from sources that remain a mystery. He is all-knowing, except when he’s asked about his past associations with unrepentant terrorist thugs and a racist, anti-American minister. He’s made a fetish of inexperience, for he has almost no record to speak of, and so nothing to explain.
And the media have been entranced by this great man. Barack owes them big time for keeping alive the drama of Obama. (And he owes a special debt to Keith Olberman, a man of extraordinary objectivity and an icon of our collective wisdom).

If and when we see the man for who he really is—because he will be making very public decisions that affect us all—what will become of the drama that is Obama? That depends on who Barack Obama really is. If we don’t roll the dice and get him elected, we’ll never know. Could we accept such an anticlimax to such drama? Alternatively, could we stomach the trauma that is Obama if he isn’t the messiah we would like for him to be?

Madeleine L’Engle, another novelist, once said, to no one in particular, “Because you’re not what I would have you be, I blind myself to who, in truth, you are.” That is another option.

* * *

Note: “The Drama of Obama” is part of the title of a book by black activist Wayne Perryman: The Drama of Obama on Racism.

For a book related to this post, see Who Is the Real Barack Obama? For the Rising Generation, By the Rising Generation. The authors, Steve Bierfeldt, Francisco Gonzalez, and Brendan Steinhauser, are young investigators with a message specially written for college and university students whose support the Obama campaign has fought hard to win.

Recent links that dig behind the public persona of Barack Obama:

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

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