Wednesday, November 05, 2008

For Jason Stiles

THIS IS WHAT A MANDATE LOOKS LIKE



Four years ago, I was working on a production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist with Rorschach Theatre.  We retrofitted Fo's farce for the War on Terror, pouring years of frantic discontent into the play.  We didn't really rehearse the play, as I remember.  Instead, we spent our evenings doing freestyle op-ed monologues, hoping to shoehorn every last outrage into the script.  I can't remember what I was hoping the night Bush won 62 million votes over John Kerry's record-high 59 million.  But I remember sharing the anger and despair with my most lovably cynical friends Jason Stiles, Marybeth Fritzsky, Melissa Schwartz, Grady Weatherford, Daniel Ladmerault and others.  Last night we gathered again, in person and by phone, to watch, shout, cry ... and sleep easy for the first time in years.

Bush's 2004 victory looked conclusive, but only against the flat gestalt of the 2000 fustercluck.  I remember W braying the next day that he'd "earned political capital" and that he intended to spend it.  First stop?  A privatization of Social Security that never materialized.  Next?  Diagnosing Terry Shiavo from the Senate chamber.  Third: Hurricane Katrina, in which 1800 Americans perished.  The glossy, shrink-wrapped Homeland Security apparatus revealed itself as a haven for despicable cronyism better suited for spreading insecurity abroad than security on the homeland.  And suddenly people realized that without some oppositional reflecting surface, W had no identity whatsoever.  He needed homophobia to keep his own people inspired in 2004.  He needed a political opponent to denounce or destroy.  The Apophatic Presidency.  
Who's the one to blame for this strain in my vocal chords?
Who can pen a hateful threat but can't hold a sword?
It's the same who complain about the global war
But can't overthrow the local joker that they voted for.
Through no effort of ours, Bush will be gone.  President Barack Obama (say it out loud one more time) will face a similar challenge in defining himself.  Will he lead a party of protest or a party of governance?  Like most of my election-night party chums, I retain a pessimistic reflex in the midst of this unmistakably liberal mandate.  I can already see the 2012 challenger standing at a podium, slowly unfolding an old, then-forgotten sign ...

For me, Obama's triumph is a rebuke to cronyism, anti-intellectualism, the culture wars, and disaster capitalism.  What will he put in its place?  I still think he's The Virgin President, but will his (INSERT MANLY EUPHEMISM) advance American hegemony or heal the planet?  Will he lead us away form an Ownership Society and towards ... I don't know what to call it ... a Creative Nation that rewards productivity over paperwork?  Will the Bill of Rights be, at least, 25% stronger now?  I seem to remember that being part of the oath ...

I'm not being cynical, I promise.  Let's not forget that Obama's triumph also includes the repudiation of Clintonite triangulation -- the very cynicism that assumed, as a matter of fact, that Obama was "not fundamentally American in his thinking and his values."  These morning-after questions are really just bullets on my Obama.com wish-list.  But for the first time I feel free to wish.  President Barack Obama ... say it again, people ... has either delivered hope or capitalized on hope.  That's enough gas to drive to January 21.  Here's hoping for new energy past that.


2 comments:

Hannah Blechman said...

I don't want to look to far into the future, because I'm a little scared of what I'll find. I don't want to be disappointed by an Obama presidency. I don't want to be politically disillusioned again. that's the worst. 2012 is happily far away. For now, I just want to be pleased with this victory now, and hope that I can manage to worry about whatever failures might occur. For now.

on a separate note: congratulations! All your canvassing paid off!

jessica explains it all. said...

I voted for the first time on Tuesday, and upon hearing the result (yeah, I'll say it: PRESIDENT Barack Obama), don't regret my choice one bit.

But I empathize in your so-called pessimistic reflex; I hope he can measure up to the high expectations he's given throughout his campaign; however, given his first speech as president-elect, I think he sees this too.

After all, "our climb will be steep," as he said.

That said, I'm still so proud to have been a part of history.