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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Homo Politicus

I watched Barack Obama on Charlie Rose. Obama wore a grey suit with a white shirt and pale blue tie; I mention this because I hate, I despise, I can't stand -- all right, all right, you made your point -- the red-white-and-blue color scheme most politicians fall back on. His eyelids had a childish sheen and his smile was broad, too broad it seemed at times, but completely sincere. He moved his hands a lot as he spoke, in a calm, measured way. And his sentences -- I was mesmerized by his sentences and his vocabulary. He didn't seem afraid of articulating complicated ideas; and all his careful phrasing struck me as wise rather than evasive, a kind of diplomacy that searches for common ground and rational solutions to problems, and is not a mask for lack of commitment. He talked about the name-calling that seems to have become the only political strategy anybody cares to employ these days in this country, and about the necessity to stand for something not merely against something.

Politics disgusts me. But Barack Obama has shocked me out of my cynicism. I keep trying to find evidence that I've been duped: I want to read the books he's written and search for holes in his arguments, for disingenuousness, for obsequiousness. How can I honestly believe a senator when he says that what drives his political career is the desire to be useful and then quotes Benjamin Franklin, who happened to have the same desire and wrote about it in a letter to his mother? How does he pull off sounding intelligent and confident but not arrogant, modest but not coy, tender -- when he talks about his mother or his children and wife -- but not saccharine? How does he manage to be down-to-earth yet idealistic?

No, what I'm trying to say is not that he is perfect but that he seems reasonable. He talked about the vital place reason has to have in politics, and I listened with my jaw on the floor because it sounded like a revolutionary idea to me, but in this man's mouth it sounded like the most basic common sense. Too many solutions to the country's problems are proposed in either-or language, he said, and what we need is to have conversations with each other and find what can be done that's not at either extreme. He made a comment that soured me a little bit: he can go into any room that contains any mixture of race, religion and socio-economic classes and convince the people to vote for him.

As he explained himself I was compelled to believe him -- for a whole of five minutes. What he means by that boast is that his approach to politics is one of having serious discussions about what needs to be done, and he believes that people respond positively to that and harness themselves cheerfully to the machine of social progress. Ah, there's the rub. This faith that people are going to act according to reason, that they will take the logical course of action when it's shown to them, is a beautiful thing. But I think most often than not that faith leads to ostracism not to being elected in a political office. Think of Socrates. Sure, he had no diplomacy skills; he insisted on being a gadfly. And yet... And yet...

I want rather desperately for Obama to run for president and win. My desperation is a indication, I think, of how unlikely it is for him to be elected, at least in the world that I find myself -- with a mixture of shame and awe -- to be living in. But it is possible that Obama will be able to do amazing things for this country even if he doesn't become president. Perhaps even because he doesn't become president. There's too much symbolic weight attached to that office, too much noise and bright lights. Good work, spectacularly good work, can be done more quietly, in positions more lowly. I believe that strongly. Perhaps that's the belief that's going to sink me one fine day.


Blogger Wendell77 said...

Wow! I saw Obama this weekend on...Meet the Press? It was nice to hear a politician who actually seems human. Your post was very thought provoking. Thanks!

October 25, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

I did watch Obama on Meet the Press and I was slightly disappointed because there was significant overlap between what he said on MTP and what he said on Charlie Rose. Nevertheless, he is an unusual politician and I'm curious to see what direction his career takes.

October 25, 2006  

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