Friday, January 19, 2007

President Obama?

So, during this time in the election cycle, when all the wannabe Presidents start throwing their hats in the ring, I always take note of the names of the would-be Presidents and immediately discount all the fat and ugly ones, like Bill Frist (when he was considering a run) or Steve Forbes, since Americans aren't going to elect anyone weirder looking then George Bush Sr. or fatter than Clinton in the age of TV, and also those with funny, weird, or stupid-sounding names. If "President X" sounds weird to me, an equality-minded liberal, then it isn't going to play in Peoria, as they say.

This time around, so far, we have Tom Tancredo. He isn't a viable candidate anyway, given that his whole platform is immigration reform (or so says The Colbert Report, which means I probably should look it up before assuming it's true, but I'm lazy so I'm not gonna), but I mean, come on, "President Tancredo?" I hardly think so. Past candidates I've dismissed on this basis include Michael Dukakis (his name killed his campaign before the photo in the tank ever did), and Richard "Dick" Lugar (I doubt we'll have a "Dick" in the White House again after Nixon, even aside from the juvenile sexual connotation, and President Lugar just makes me think of WWII movies), and Dennis Kucinich (who I voted for in the primary in '04, but I knew it wouldn't make any difference since I was living in Massachusetts at the time).*

But then, I realized that somehow I hadn't automatically dismissed the anointed new hope of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama. Critics in the political realm were already noting that it would be hard to believe that people in the heartland would vote for a guy named "Barack" long before I realized it, as some research since has shown (though, of course, Obama was elected the junior US Senator from Illinois in 2004, the state in which Peoria is located, so his name has already, in fact, played in Peoria). And it made me wonder about my own prejudices and what other blinders I am unknowingly wearing, especially since I still can't dismiss Obama as potentially the best candidate for the Democrats in 2008 (though I'm not convinced yet).

Why didn't I apply the same standards to Obama as I did immediately to Tancredo? I suppose it could be because of all the media attention he's gotten, which makes his candidacy seem de facto reasonable and legitimate. But I can't dismiss the possibility that I dismiss candidates I don't like on superficial factors easier than ones I like, even though I don't think that I'm one of those people who wouldn't vote for an ugly guy or a guy with a funny name. I think I'm the more enlightened one who is just judging the passions of the rabble but not one of them.

It turns out, though, maybe I am one of them. Maybe I dismiss those candidates not for the reason I always tell myself, that the unenlightened won't vote for them, but simply because I won't vote for them. Maybe I'm just as superficial as they are.

Or maybe I'm not because I'm asking the question. It's hard to accurately judge one's self, isn't it?

*I also automatically dismiss anyone who is so milquetoast and boring that he -- they're always guys -- makes me, a middle-class professional from Ohio, look like a gang member from the hood, like Dick Gephardt (who also has both the "Dick" thing going on and has the word "hard" in his already goofy-sounding last name) or Bill Bradley, but that's neither here nor there.


At 4:40 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

Good to see you blogging again!

From a pragmatic standpoint, it would seem (historically) that Americans can be pretty shallow when it comes to electing their leaders. Issues like unattractive physical features or a strange name could easily be interpreted to be a distinct disadvantage in any election.

Still, I doubt that even the American electorate, in its infinite foolishness, would use such issues in a preemptory or lexicographical way. That is, those teetering between Nixon and Kennedy may be pursuaded by Kennedy's looks and youth, but a true liberal will not vote for Allen over Obama.

In any event, I think the reason it is hard to hold Obama to the same cynical light is because he seems to be a kind of beacon of hope for the left right now (at least he is to me): A man who isn't afraid to say he is a liberal, isn't afraid to talk about his past openly, isn't afraid to say that we should respect people, regardless of which side of aisle, even while vigorously opposing their politics.

Beacons of hope in an age of spiraling cynicism and animosity can go by whatever appellation they like, I think. It is still possible to "envision" Obama as President because we want that ideal.

I just hope he's the real thing. I'm not sure I can be dissappointed by the Democrats again.

At 6:41 AM, Blogger mooglar said...

Actually, Paul, I'm pretty sure you can actually be disappointed by the Democrats again. :^)

At 6:43 AM, Blogger mooglar said...

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