Monday, January 19, 2009

An Inaugural Scrooge

Paul's post on the iinaugural spectacle prompts me to confront my own reaction which is, for the most part, one of bemusement. It all strikes me as too much by half.

Of course, the election of an African-American president is a significant event. I was not one of those who doubted that the U.S. would elect a black president. Contemporary racial bias seems to express itself in presumptions about people that we don't know. In a nation that has - for reasons that are lost on me - made Oprah its most admired person, the election of an African-American is not all that surprising.

But that doesn't make it any less momentous. As others have noted, Obama could not have been served lunch at many restaurants in North Carolina during the year he was born. Last fall, a majority of the state's electorate voted for him for President.

So that makes this inauguration special. In contemplating my own reaction, I also have to make allowance for the fact that I did not vote for Obama and do not welcome much of what I believe his administration will do. I understand, as well, that this type of transition is a time for us to engage each other with good will.

Paul suggests that the triumphalism of the inauguration might be justified as a celebration of the event and what it tells us about our democracy and racial progress. It is better, on this view, to see it as being about the event than about the man and his ideology.

While we can qualify our individual enthusiasm in this way (I am all about that), I don't think the social meaning of the event can be circumscribed in this way. The avalanche of Obama Inaugural geegaws and jingles; the starry eyes and breathy invocations of Hope, Change and New Day and whatever cannot help but be about the man and his ideology.

But who cares? Aren't I just refusing to be gracious in defeat? Isn't it OK to be optimistic about new leadership?

To some extent, I am and it is. But just as you can't separate politics from the celebration, you can't completely remove ideology from your reaction to it.

As a Burkean conservative, my expectations for politics are modest. One of my concerns about the Obama movement is that it places (in its rhetoric, if not in its specifics) excessive hope in politics and the state and, worse, does so by investing its personification with some post-ideological and extrapartisan wisdom.

I suppose that we will all come down to earth in a few days. But I think there should be some healthy skepticism about what is on offer. Political honeymoons are times when things get done. They are also times when mistakes are made. I would prefer a more subdued reception.

Cross posted at Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog and PrawfsBlawg.


Jimi5150 said...

I completely agree. And as a few others have said, I'm sick of it already.

But, I'll be anxiously awaiting all the change that's been promised.

Billiam said...

I agree with you mr. Rick. Yet, I have alarm bells going off due to the almost mindless adoration for Pres-elect Obama that's going on. That kind of thing, if it doesn't wane quickly can cause many problems.I don't recall seeing this type of thing in this country in my lifetime.

Clutch said...

I don't recall seeing this type of thing in this country in my lifetime.

You're not trying very hard.

Hint: "the almost mindless adoration for Pres [- - - -]".

Pop quiz: what four letters completes that, vis a vis that mainstream newsmedia and vast swathes of the American population? You'll have to think back to 2000-2003, so take a few deep breaths before attempting to answer ;-).

Anyhow, from that most recent and most obvious example of near-pathological presidential adoration by a large demographic, your caution that "that kind of thing... can cause many problems" is certainly unassailable.

George Mitchell said...

The quantity — and content — of the coverage has one benefit. By dismissing most of it you can free up alot of time for household tasks and other items on one's to-do list.

William Tyroler said...

certainly unassailable: Like the unproven (and unprovable) assertion that Bush was, from 2000 (!) to 2003, the object "of near-pathological presidential adoration by a large demographic"?

A Nonymouse said...

Well, it's good to see Americans, and across so many demographics, so thrilled about something that might be real progress. Truly, if tomorrow were the McCain presidency we'd already be counting down the days until its predictably gloomy and unremarkable end. But I fear we are headed for a catastrophic disappointment (I wish these posting boxes had a spell check!). The country cannot be righted (up-righted is more accurate, but I'm not sure its a proper word) by good feelings. Neither can the Russians be deterred from marching into Ukraine, nor can the Iranians be prevented from nuking Tel Aviv by anything less than the fear of certain and devastating reprisals (yes, reprisals, not mere "consequences"). I have said many times before that my fear is that Putin will size up Obama and come to the conclusion that Khruschev came to after meeting Kennedy in Vienna. My hope is that the ruthless Chicago politician that some paint Obama to be is the real Obama: "I like you enough, Vladimir." Then I think maybe we'll be OK, for a while.

Clutch said...

Like the unproven (and unprovable) assertion


Yes. Exactly like that, one could allow arguendo. And yet repeated, for the nth time here at S&S, transmogrified into data via repetition, despite this unprovable status. If only you were moved to demur by RE's endless and tedious hammering on this drum as quickly as you were by my one-off.

Having said that, I think you dismiss the prospects for empirical analysis a bit too casually. "Unproven" I'll cop to quite happily, simply because it characterizes practically every negative trope about Obama that Rick Esenberg has broadcast from this blog. (Over your highly principled objections, it goes without saying.) "Unprovable", though, is one of those words that litters the history of a priori pronouncements. Media analysis isn't physics, but it isn't quite astrology either; who knows what a rigorous investigation might show? Conceivably even that Esenberg is right!

Billiam said...

Clutch, I don't remember Bush having the sort of response we're seeing today for much more than 6 months or so before the carping and second guessing started. Yet, that time was understandable due to the 9-11 attack. This is the election of an unknown quantity who doesn't want himself known. There are so many questions about Obama, yet, a majority seem almost orgasmic in their adoration without knowing much of anything about this guy. That, to me, is quite bothersome.

Anonymous said...

Want some cheese with the whine you're all spewing? Geez. . .if your Decider/Uniter/Mission Accomplisher had done his job the last eight years, maybe people wouldn't be over the moon hoping Obama and his administration can get this country back into shape. Maybe if Dubya and Company hadn't thought a PERMANENT Republican controlled government was going to happen, he and his minions wouldn't have messed up this country so badly.

So, have some whine and cheese, sit back, watch history being made, and pray that the United State of America is on the right course.

William Tyroler said...

Well, if the idea is that I need to empirically prove that an adulatory media were in the tank for Obama, then I'm going to put it in the category: "Who you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?"

If the claim is that Prof. Esenberg is guilty of "endless and tedious hammering," then I'd simply say: a) he doesn't need me to defend himself; b) besides, I'm not even sure what he accused of endlessly hammering; c) and anyway, if it bothers you that much, why bother subjecting yourself to it? (That's a rhetorical quesiton, by the way.)

If the notion is that you can quantify near-pathological "presidential adoration," then I say, go for it.

But if, as I suspect, the real purpose is to ventilate about the Prof's "every negative trope about Obama," then I'd say: it really is OK to criticize the president, to question authority. If the past several years taught nothing else, they should at least have taught that much.

Anonymous said...

"I suppose that we will all come down to earth in a few days."

It will probably take the media only about that long to start saying that the economy is now in recovery and the world is at peace.

apexcutter said...

I'm with George Mitchell ... getting a lot done over the last few days, as I ignore the media love-fest. Today, I'm going to re-wire a rental property and watch NONE of the inaugural excess.

But Rick, your comment: "In a nation that has - for reasons that are lost on me - made Oprah its most admired person" perplexes me. Surely you appreciate the fact that America has become all about Celebrity. I tell my son, headed for college this fall, to find work in the sports or entertainment fields, as those areas are all America cares about anymore. And as we see, our government leaders are just morphing the institution of government into sports/entertainment. "Rock-star President" ... right?

John Foust said...

What? Nothing about Rev. Wright? How quickly your deep concerns disappear!

Clutch said...

Well, if the idea is that I need to empirically prove that an adulatory media were in the tank for Obama...

LOL. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that you were ascending your soap box about unproven and unprovable assertions. Oh, right.

Because, you know, now it just looks like a simple crass goalpost-shifting. The media fluffed for Bush for a long time? Foul! Unproven! Unprovable! Not cricket! The media was adulatory, positively in the tank, for Obama? Why, we don't need no stinkin' evidence for that!

Note that I am not particularly concerned to argue that the media was not, on balance, more favorably disposed to Obama in the late campaign. (Though one might reasonably wonder how they could be even minimally rational agents and avoided such an attitude, given the principals and conduct of the McCain campaign.) My concern, by contrast, was with the amnesiac claim that nothing similar has happened in Billiam's lifetime. Prescinding from the thought that Billiam is 5 years old, this strikes me as palpably false. Shall we dial back such terms as "near-pathological" and "mindless adoration" on both scores? Sure; fine by me. The upshot remains that the meme of Obama's having some unprecedented or extremely rare cachet of leader-cred with a demographic and the media is utterly unwarranted.

William Tyroler said...

it seems like just yesterday that you were ascending your soap box about unproven and unprovable assertions

Nah, just yanking your chain, at least in part. But partly. too, I thought the reference to "near-pathological" passing strange. I'd still like to know how we might control for variables on that one. Placing the (near?) disease onset at 2000 was even odder. No matter: Happy Inauguration Day. It's the dawning of the Age of Post-Partisanship.

Clutch said...

Placing the (near?) disease onset at 2000 was even odder. No matter: Happy Inauguration Day. It's the dawning of the Age of Post-Partisanship.

:-) Fair enough. It's hard to see why post-partisanship is even needed, of course, given the past eight years of bipartisanship, compassion, honour, and integrity in the White House.

Or maybe it isn't so "odd", after all, to those who paid attention...

Anonymous said...

Clutch, really? You remember a MSM that was ever 'in the tank' for Bush? (Not counting the months after 9/11). I remember a lot more MSM coverage of how Bush and Republicans 'stole' the election. I remember a lot of left leaning blogs vilifying from the outset. Not cautioning against blind faith in something as absolutely secular as American politics, out and out ranting on how Republicans 'rigged or stole' the election.

I would still be willing to bet that the majority of left leaning blogs would have used the 'N' word and 'Uncle Tom' in their posts if it was Colin Powell about to take office.

If you want to talk similar situations, Bill Clinton's first inaugural and Reagan's second inaugural or Kennedy's inaugural(if you go back that far) were sad seconds to Obama. I have never cared one whit about political pomp and circumstance. I can say that I have never heard the media blitz and glitz of this inauguration. I cannot name any laws being passed about scalping over an inaugural address before now. I do not remember ever having been bombarded with new Presidential memorabilia for a President-ELECT. I have seen coin commercials for a President leaving or just left, but an Obama coin commercial during the quite expensive football playoffs(There is your sports reference apexcutter)?

Media aside, these buttons, coins, etc. are selling because many people have already deified him and will follow whatever policies he proposes to whatever grave or paradise they lead to like lemmings to the sea. That both grass roots and MSM (and the rest of Government) are so thoroughly pro-Obama is dangerous. A mistake will not be criticized, mitigated, or even second guessed until the full effects are felt. Similarly, long term fixes could be instituted that will have the chance to come to fruition(I hope it happens, but he would have to betray major factions in his own party for any of the fixes I believe would help).

I haven't been to any right leaning blogs that have expressed anything more negative than their concerns. There are no 'Husseins' (Dubya), no Nigger(Hitler), no name calling of any sort. I am sure if you looked at the far out (and low volume) blogs, you may find something loathsome, but the bottom line is that caution and sarcastic optimism are the worst negatives you see so far about Obama. You cannot say the same about the Bush elections, much less the inauguration.

I think commercialism is part of 'hype' and there is no doubt Obama has the craze or fad feeling of a Rock Star that no other President to date has had. You want proof? Go to any novelty store. You may find Bush's face on punching bags or Clinton in a sexual pose, but the Obama section is all positive smiles, and they are selling like hot-cakes.