© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
I have some thoughts about this Barack Obama. However, I must first disclose that I’m not necessarily a good judge of people. I’m always confused when people say, “I’m a good judge of character.”
Hell, everyone has character. It just reveals itself in different ways and in different situations depending on the person. So what makes people think that they’ve cornered the market on evaluating others? Usually our evaluations of others have more to do with what we think about ourselves than them.
I’ve often said that I am an “All Comers Kind of Guy.” I can find something interesting, and of value, about virtually anyone. Seriously.
That may be the reason why I’ve never been married nor had a desire to have children. It would just be too confusing for people to deal with me on a regular basis. (The Laughingman claims that he finally figured this marriage problem out, after a couple of failed attempts. At the first sign of loneliness… or any baser, prurient desire… he simply walks to the Strand, finds a woman he can’t stand, and buys her a house, thus avoiding both lawyers and broken crockery.)
Now, getting to the point, throughout the day yesterday, I repeatedly asked myself, “Who is Barack Obama, and why are people saying all of these things about him?”
I have no facts upon which to base my suspicions. I have not read any of his books, and I have not spoken to any of his friends or confidantes. I don’t even know the guy. This is just a visceral, gut-level assessment, watching him evolve during the past 18 months.
We’ve often heard him called a “mystery man” and an “enigma.” I believe that it is because he does not share our “mainstream” values. By values, I am not referring to all of the rhetoric about being a socialist or leftist, about which we heard so much during the last year.
From the perspective of an outsider simply watching human interaction, in a way, Obama's interaction with his wife speaks volumes, at least to me, about where his head is at. It’s my suspicion that it is an intellectual and principle-based love, not the usual physicality and security-based “love,” to which so many of us subject ourselves. It’s not about, “You make me feel special,” but rather, “We’re special together.”
It’s the ultimate form of interpersonal respect.
Their relationship strikes me as the type of cutting-edge heterosexual relationship, where the collaborative nature of the partnership trumps each partner’s personal issues. We suspect that we will see more and more of this as humankind dives into the abyss of further complexity.
(Quite honestly, I suspect it is perhaps more akin to relationships during the day when getting killed by a beast in the wild was a more pressing issue than the possibility that your spouse slept with a neighbor, or the amount of time you spent at home versus work.)
I also get the impression that he's detached, not from the issues, but from the fray, and in a good way. He's on a mission of more significance and importance than having his personal issues addressed. He believes that it is more about the moment than about him. As I’ve often said with some degree of grammatical imperfection, “It’s bigger than you and me, and it’s bigger than the here and now.”
(In my view, Bill Clinton never appreciated that concept, especially considering the manner in which he approached his defense during the Monica Lewinsky era.)
I do not have a good enough feel for Michelle to make the same call, but I suspect that she has similar motivations. That’s, what I suspect, drew them to one another.
Additionally, their kids just look grounded – for a reason. Something tells me that their parents have addressed them as intellectual and pragmatic beings, not mini-drones to be dictated to, and through which the parents’ inadequacies are expressed.
I'm not sure that he really wanted to be President per se, like Bill Clinton. But “No Drama Obama” has been pinned to him for a reason.
Here's something else. On “Morning Joe” on MSNBC this morning, Joe Klein told a story about being on the campaign trail, when Michelle asked him whether he was going to write a book about the Obama family, referring to "Primary Colors." Barack instantly quipped, "Oh Michelle, that won’t happen. We're too boring."
The guy doesn't seem to have an ego. (Hard to believe, isn’t it?) He's relatively dismissive of unbelievable personal attacks. Somewhere in his youth, he learned to tune out all the crap which makes most of us become insecure.
He understands that the moment is really not about him, and that’s why he is so receptive to the views of others. He just happens to be here at a certain place in time in history. It’s more about synchronicity, as Jung would put it, or serendipity, as Kundera would submit.
Interestingly, last night on Tavis Smiley on PBS, Tavis aired an interview of Obama some years ago. Barack indicated that his first priority was his family, and the second addressing the needs of the people of the State of Illinois. I actually think that is the truth in this instance, as compared to most Presidents, CEOS, and financial heavyweights, who might say it and desire it, but not really believe it themselves.
Additionally, I think that he is a big, big picture guy, not a technocrat, and he flows naturally. I watched him and Michelle walk through that school on National Service Day this past Monday, and they really seemed to be interested in each and every one of the people with whom they came into contact, which is extremely unusual for politicians. On a pragmatic level, they typically can not do that. There’s no time to engage.
I do not get the sense that much about his style is contrived. To borrow a phrase from an old Dramatics song, “What you see is what you get.” He's a very cool customer. I am sure that some will consider him to be the Anti-Christ.
When he first burst on the scene, I paid absolutely no attention to him for 2 reasons. The first was that I did not believe that America was ready to elect a black President. (Even though it has done so, I still do not believe that it is ready.)
However, the second was that I did not listen to him, nor did I actually observe him. I simply assumed that he fit the mold of most politicians, and that he had a decent enough background as a Negro not to overly alarm folks, and that he had the good sense not to piss them off. (Like he cared.)
It took over a year for me to pay any attention to this young man, and listen to anything that he had to say. It’s been an evolutionary process; however, I would submit that it was I who evolved. He stayed right on message, consistently throughout.
And so you see, I think that his seemingly inexplicable popularity is based on a tone, a style, an attitude, an essence, all of which we should not consider in the selection of a national leader.
But we were obviously looking for something different, even if he did not embody experience. In a way, we said to ourselves, “Enough of the old stuff. It’s obviously not working. It’s time to find a new church.”
And here we find ourselves, in probably the worst situation most of us have ever known. We had to reach out and try to grasp something. Obviously it had to be something “different.”
To be fair, in the last 2 years, it would be hard to find an instance where President Obama screwed up anything of functional significance, and 2 years is a long time for a mere mortal to not put a foot wrong. Even his Cabinet nominations seem to be based more on talent and competence than any sort of political dogma. (Imagine that.)
It remains to be seen how, and if, he will be able to manage any of these opposing views; but he has hit the ground running faster than any other administration in recent memory.
Perhaps this is what we were all longing for - pragmatism, collaboration, and competence.
Perhaps we have had our fill of Senor Wences, and his Topo Gigio sidekicks, keeping the plates spinning in the air, while nothing else gets done. (For those of you for whom this has no significance, check with someone who remembers the old Ed Sullivan Shows.)
Perhaps political theater, outside of Shakespearian tragedies, is going the way of the dodo.
I may be all wrong. After all, I’m the guy who told you that I can generally look at a politician speaking on C-Span and immediately venture a guess as to whether they are progressive or conservative, based purely on visual factors. Consequently, you shouldn’t take me seriously. I’m just another goofball.
However, this is not outside the realm of possibilities. The reason we may not know Barack Obama is because we’re accustomed to evaluating the show, the make-up, and the results of the practice, the special effects, and the spin.
We may be seeing perhaps the first “real person” to run for presidential office in the last 200 years. (And you thought that Sarah Palin was of that species.) Not being accustomed to seeing real people, we may not be able to identify the alien that he is.
Alien or not, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could actually suck up all of our personal prejudices, and give this guy a chance?
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
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