Politics & Media
Jan 15, 2009, 05:18AM

What This Transition Means to Me

Obama's swearing-in will have personal implications for all Americans, particularly those who came of political age during his candidacy.

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Photo by infrogmation2

I can safely say the breadth of the 2008 election, more than anything else during my 24-year span on this earth, brought me into a political consciousness. And while I am now an Obama supporter, I found myself keying into America’s political debate well before I was fully aware of the now President-elect, his “audacity of hope” or his policies. Part of this evolution was grounded in my persistent love of all things media. I followed sites like Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post as well as covering Web 2.0/New Media/the Internets. And I was struck by the slug for UWire, a college media aggregator—“powered by the content generation”—and saw it, perhaps a bit fantastically, as a personal reinterpretation of a “man of ideas.”

Because we have nothing now if not a burgeoning of ideas, and we of course now fully depend on the Internet for the majority of this new day in the Age of Information, the Internet-as-think-tank era. We are awash in ideas and have endless conduits for their discussion and evolution. As a writer, I do my best to contribute to this think tank we’ve created and nourished, and it now seems lazy to be a man of ideas and not see that notion go hand in hand with the “content generation” label. Remember: “Everyone has a blog.”

My Obama support catapulted me further down the road of political and intellectual (not that they’re mutually exclusive…) involvement. Something as simple as Obama mentioning Ronald Reagan was enough to keep my eyes peeled for well-grounded arguments of all stripes. In covering Web 2.0ish stuff I’ve been drawn to such dynamic conservative-leaning publications such as The Next Right, Reason and Culture 11, where the conservative agenda is discussed in such a fashion to keep even the most (self-described) liberal twentysomething coming back each day.

I thank our President-elect for lighting that kind of fire, a fire I see in a hundred blogs and pint-laden conversations. There is simply no excuse for the discerning partisan to not enjoy fruitful dialogue coming from the other side. As Tom Petty sang, “It’s time to move on, time to get going.”

My boss wanted me to put together a column that addressed the Obama transition. And looking back through my Google Reader and its starred items over the past month, every pick, every address, every riposte has been so fully documented there seems little left to say. And I write that as someone who is not a guru of any foreign or domestic policy. The think tank could use some slimming every now and then.

The transition has been personal. The greater machinations of government and culture are sliding into perspective. As exhausting as the campaign season was, and as historic as Obama’s victory is, nothing throws Nov. 4 into sharper relief than the events we are facing right now. Last Friday The Huffington Post’s homepage was taken up with the current unemployment rate: 7.2%. Joblessness, the financial collapse, the economic downturn. Iraq. Afghanistan. Iran. Now, the Middle East is in full reboot mode. Global warming hasn’t gone anywhere.

There’s the standard boilerplate, our-country-isn’t-doing-so-hot run down as seen by anyone who, at the least, walks past a newsstand every other day. It’s a bit numbing. Splice Today's Zach Lupetin wrote late last year on how easy it is for the 24-hour cycle of bad news to simple wash over the public. We’re the rock in the rapids, as it were.

I don’t call myself jaded or uncaring. What distresses me more than general apathy, though, is the slew of issues that are a notch or two below global wars and global warming and national recession.

Nov. 4 was no refutation of “politics as usual.” The country held its breath as Obama and Hillary Clinton went into the late spring as nearly deadlocked as two candidates can be. And yet we watched it resolve itself. The PUMAs never showed up, evidenced in part by how smoothly Obama hit 270 electoral votes on November 4. While a “national mandate” is pretty much impossible in red-blue America, Obama’s transition approval ratings are the near-perfect inverse of Bush’s.

Yet we have Al Franken and Norm Coleman, Caroline Kennedy, Rod Blagojeyich and Roland Burris. There’s the whole dysfunctional field of candidate for the Republican National Committee’s chairmanship. The election process works fine when there’s a clear majority, not so much when it comes down to the wire. Kennedy said she wouldn’t run for the Senate seat she is currently jostling to parachute into—a fact I find infallibly damning. I don’t ignore Blagojeyich’s legal right, as acting governor, to appoint Roland Burris to fill Obama’s departed Senate seat. But watching Burris and other black politicians pull the most brutal use of the race card in recent memory is demoralizing. I don’t care much for Al Franken—he’s the best Minnesota could put up?—but I do care that Norm Coleman can’t take reality on the chin.

With Obama as my personal, content-generated “man of ideas” I’m content that, at the very least, the right guy will take over next Tuesday. During the campaign Obama deftly kept racial politics at a minimum; as president, he will have to navigate the electorate as well as all corners of the government. His current stimulus plan is laden with criticism—simply put, it isn’t big enough. There is much work to do.

George Packer’s “Talk of the Town” piece in the January 5 issue of The New Yorker is a fairly poetic interpretation of the transition:

The present moment—this strange moment in our common life, suspended between the fall of financial capital and the crowning of a new hope—is something like that waiting-for-the-crying-to-start moment. (Not a few of us are crying already—though, as the rule of life dictates, it’s mostly the little kid who got pushed rather than the big bullies who pushed them.) On the one hand, we have all bumped our foreheads, hard, on the edge of reality. But how bad will the bruise, and the bawling, really be?

In relation to my political awakening, Packer’s analysis is rather comforting in the sense that the public at large—all generations and demographics¬—is waking up, little by little.

But no one should see a silver bullet in Obama. These are sobering times, and if that means a little less dewy-eyed wonder, so be it. Washington, DC, is keeping the bars open until 5 a.m. all through Inaugural week. That should be enough for now.

  • Although it's been said countless times, what really set Obama apart was his youth appeal. It really brought people like you into the know of politics and inspired a new generation.

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