The observation has been made that the most apt comparision of Sen. Barack Obama's leadership may not be to that of FDR, or JFK, or the Reagan Revolution, but toTeddy Roosevelt, at the dawn of the 20th Century.
Exactly. He's that Transformational; a Trans-generational figure that leads us from the 20th Century paradigm to that of the 21st. [Bill] Clinton was the culimination of the post-WWII political aspirations of 20th Century American society; George W. Bush was a retro "pushback", a 'last gasp' of the Traditional Establishment, the Rooted Culture, and the Old [New World] Order.
Its about how the integration of our parochial, sectarian, and tribal beliefs enable the transition into a true planetary culture. Here are some thoughts on how each of us might help ease our families, friends, and associates into this new reality, with as little wailing, flying of fur, and gnashing of teeth as possible...
From his entry into the presidential race, Sen. Obama has been viewed as "transformational", in the sense that he espouses an inclusive, post-partisan, and even post-ideological approach to public policy. Many columns have been written long since about the new Zen he brings to politics. But, over the past year, its gradually become apparent that something of a greater magnitude is taking place.
President Obama is the birth of a new concensus ambient reality, different from the old, in which obsolete social constructs, taboos and sanctions, about race, sex, gender, religion, and age all dissipate and fall by the wayside, as no longer true, plausible, believable, or even relevant. Its not merely that Obama is introducing this to the political realm; but rather that he is - in the right place, at the right time - a reflection of the evolutionary maturity of the larger culture, where the old things are falling away. This is what makes the prospect of a President Obama so frightening to so many people. It doesnt have to be racism; Appalachia has many deep cultural roots, but they do not generally include the history of systemic institutional racism and vicious racial divisions as were found in the deep south, which Sen. Obama carried handily.
Consider that at some level, often subconsciously, it is the message of "Change" itself which people fear. Its not so much the articulated surface text, as even the most Conservative Republicans ardently support the need for "Change in Washington". Let's face it: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama won primaries across the country by saying exactly the same thing (often, verbatum) "Washington is Broken". Only the special interests, their cult of lobbyists, many bureaucrats and some NGOs with a vested interest in the Status Quo would fear the transition to a more efficient and responsive government. They dont matter. Your neighbor is not a 'special interest'. Your workout partner, or child's soccer coach is not a K Street lobbyist. Their fears go much deeper.
The subliminal sense of 'change' they fear, which tugs them all, to one degree or another, toward John McCain, has nothing to do with their perception of Obama's policies, nor their estimation of his likelihood of enacting them, if elected. Its the entire paradigm of 20th Century reality, which they grew up in, were nurtured by, and felt safe and comfortable in, before 9/11, that they harken back to. Since 9/11, everything has changed. Awesome, fearful, terrible changes, across the entire spectrum of everyday life have happend.
"Everybody is talking on cellphones, and listening to iPods, and Facebooking, and navigating by GPS. I no sooner got rid of my vinyl records for CD's to play on my Walkman, when all the music comes online now. My new TV cost more than my last car did, and is almost as big. There are metal detectors and cops with dogs everywhere. My neighborhood watering hole/honky tonk bar got torn down for a new Applebee's, where everything costs more and I dont know nobody and you have to feel like its some special occasion just to go there. Just when I got used to that cavernous WalMart instead of those little family shops on Main Street, the whole deal of 'going out shopping' has been reduced to a few mouse clicks, and the UPS guy or Peapod ringing my doorbell. You turn on the news channel, and its all about trashy bimbos from Hollywood, freaking out about some damn thing, or some Arab nutjob blowing up the subway in some country or other. A ghetto world of drug dealers and gang wars and crack whores we used to know only from that TV show "COPS", and some movies, is now a lifelike video game (Grand Theft Auto) on my new five-foot living room screen, that my kids cant stop fighting over, and those people moving in next door to me dont look like they're from around here, neither..."
Such is the world the "undecideds" inhabit this fall. Only a few people out of a hundred will encounter the health care system this year, and, if their kids are getting decent grades, the schools wont likely get 'Top of Mind Awareness' from them, either. They think abortion is a sin and a shame, but if their teenage daughter became pregnant, they'd be looking up clinics in the YellowPages before even learning to spell her boyfriend's last name. Pop wont reach for his shotgun, after all, its 2008; he'll check his credit card balances to see which account is best to charge the abortion on. All those wonky issues that get blogged about and rile up the true believers, from NAFTA and FISA to Gay Marriage and Global Warming, are just something "out there", unreal, that talking heads on TV go on about; divorced from the insular daily reality that your voter tries ever harder to cocoon himself in. They hold no meaning to him, his family, his job, or anyone he knows.
"I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it...
"We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!
"We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy.
"It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."
- Howard Beale, Anchor, UBS News (Network, 1976)
Technological change doesnt often register on the Progressive's radar screen, but it changes everyday life in the home and work (and in between) at a very fine level of granularity. The British science historian James Burke, in his landmark book (and BBC series) "Connections" referred to certain seminal events in the history of technology as "Triggers of Change". They tend to have profound social, political, and economic consequences, far beyond - and unpredictable from - the point at which they fit into the lineage of man's engineered machinery. Futurist Ray Kurzweil (inventor of Optical Character Recognition, Text-to-Speech Synthesis, Voice Recognition, etc.), renowned for 30 years as the world's most accurate prognosticator of technological change, furthered this theory of history in his original essay "The Law of Accelerating Returns". It subsequently became the thesis of his 2005 NYT Bestseller book "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" (and upcoming major motion picture); thus far, the most influential book of the 21st Century. The future that Burke and Kurzweil (and others, notably Terence McKenna) have independently arrived at is inevitably one of exponentially accelerating change. In 2008-2009, we are entering the 'knee' of that asymtotic curve. Its palpable, and millions of people can already feel it, viscerally. The young are already possessed of an instinctive understanding. Some, like Transhumanists, and the highly educated, generally welcome the onrush of this new reality; others, often non-college, blue collar workers, not all of them Fundamentalists, are terrified of it.
"That old McCain guy looks like my grampa; he was in World War II also. He doesnt look like he'd start any more wars with anybody. I remember as a kid how old Gen. Ike got us out of Korea as President, and even that crook Nixon pulled us out of Vietnam - back in the '60s when the hippies were rioting in the streets for Peace. He probably wont do much else. Heck, I bet he naps in the afternoon. But, at least he wont DO any more of this crap..."
Even that vast bipartisan majority who long (on a conscious level) for someone to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., a political Hercules who can finally clean out the Agean stables, once and for all, consists largely of those who live in Howard Beale's ever shrinking living room world. Subconsciously, their fear of the change that is already enveloping them (and which will continue inexorably, no matter who is elected) may be what guides their wavering, unsteady hands in those voting booths on November 4th. We must come to grips with this background psychology in order to understand the electorate, and win the 2008 election.
Its not the message of change that Barack Obama represents which will, in the final analysis, cause angst. Its the sociocultural rubicon that his candidacy and election represent; not his race, per se, but a world seemingly out of control, passing into the hands of a next generation, of great diversity, of seeminly alien languages and religions and beliefs. Hillary Clinton's inexplicable persistence in lingering on the national stage is merely her own personal emotional, irrational, undefined spontaneous psychological response to this multidimensional change. She's come undone, and, obviously, she's not alone. Its not a test of ovarian supremacy. This cognitive dissonance, among our family, friends, and associates, is what each of us must overcome in the next five months to be successful.
Up Next in The Transformation & You, Part II: "Hope, Faith, and Change"