A Respite from Cynicism

by Edwin Turner

I am a cynic and skeptic of the worst kind, the type of person who claims to be a realist but who secretly knows that he is a hopeless pessimist. And yet I cannot help but feel more than a little relieved and lightened, very much in spite of myself, at our country’s overwhelming endorsement of a new ideology, one that I believe is different and separate from the politics that survived on the perpetuation of the myth of a “culture war.” I’m talking about Barrack Obama, President Elect, if I haven’t been clear enough.

I’m not naive enough to believe that Obama isn’t a politician, fallible like all before him, and I’m not giddy or silly enough to think of him as a Jesusian savior of America. When the conservative movement mocked Obama’s followers for seemingly seeing in the man a messiah figure, what they didn’t understand was the radical break that Obama represented. It is not so much Obama the man that we longed for, but the idea of Obama–the idea of someone radically different from everything that had come before. And in electing Obama–and the idea of Obama–we immediately achieved something, as Americans, that is wholly independent of anything Obama will do over the next four years as President. We showed the world that our democracy works and that we as a people are not the ignorant xenophobic fundamentalists that the Bush administration worked so hard to paint us as.

I’ve been thinking these past few days about Michelle Obama’s infamous comment during the campaign that she felt proud to be an American for the first time in her adult life. The comment was fodder for right wingers, of course, and at the time it seemed like a bit of a blunder even to some Obama supporters. But now I see it in a new way. My adult life has essentially taken place in this decade, the Bush decade, the 9/11 decade (I turned 21 in the year 2000). While I’ve had moments of pride in individual Americans, it’s been hard to see the (regressive) movement of our country in any positive light. I remember being a child, being taught and believing that this was a special country, a different country, a country that people wanted to come to because it was special and different. In my adult life in this decade, I’ve watched our ideological stock plummet around the globe. I’ve found myself, while traveling abroad, having to explain–with quite a bit of difficulty–that we’re not all ignorant fundamentalists in America. That thinking critically was actually once considered patriotic. That America was really a much better place than its elected leadership exemplified. The policies of the Bush administration–and the nation’s acquiescent and apathetic response to them–slowly drained my energy and hardened my pessimism in politics and people into a thick, cynical shell. I am amazed at how quickly the November 4th, 2008 election shattered this shell.

I know that Obama will make mistakes, that he will have to engage in the same kind of political gamesmanship that every other president has had to in order to push their agenda. But again, to paraphrase Obama himself, this isn’t about him–this is about us, the U.S., and our declared mandate for political and cultural change in this country. So while I will keep my skeptical reservations and pessimism about politics and the two-party system that we let dominate this country, I can’t help but feel a restoration of pride and a sense of possibility for this country.

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11 Responses to “A Respite from Cynicism”

  1. Quick note: I have every intention to going back to book reviews next week. Can’t help the past month’s election binge. Input affects output.

  2. …must…contain…cynical…quip…

  3. I’m with you on pretty much all of this. I too am a pessimist, though the election has put that part of my nature into remission for a little while.

    Like you, I have had some interesting experiences while on travels abroad. The rapid deterioration of America’s standing internationally between 2002, 2005, and then 2006 was really incredible.

    I’m proud of this country as well and am relieved that more voters thought it was time to move away from the policies that Bush put in place.

  4. I’m ready for all of this to end. I hope that cynicism doesn’t lead to impatient outcry when Obama fails to fulfill a majority of his promises in the first six months.

    The administrations that follow Obama’s will have roles to play in the completion of his mandate.

    I think simple policy changes, stemming from a bipartisan cabinet and a commitment to transparency will immediately begin to heal a decent amount of the damage caused by the Bush administration.

    Have you read the rave reviews of that new Bolano book? Lethem seemed very impressed in the NYTimes Book Review.

  5. Hey, Dave, thanks for your direction to Lethem’s review of *2666*…I actually just finished *The Savage Detectives* this past Friday. I can’t recall a book taking me so long to read (I began in the middle of August). Review forthcoming. Incidentally, a critic at Slate gave *2666* a pretty glowing review. For some reason, rinkydink Biblioklept’s requests for review copies have been denied. We’ll try again.
    I’m curious about the “all of this” in your first sentence, though–are you indicating the zeitgeist of the past 8 years? Or the current elation over Obama’s election? Or something else?
    I definitely agree w/ your second sentence (“I hope that cynicism doesn’t lead to impatient outcry when Obama fails to fulfill a majority of his promises in the first six months.”)–that was kinda one of the points I was trying to express above–what Obama the politician does, imho, is quite separate now from what we, the electorate, indicated we wanted.

  6. I’m just tired of caring so much about one thing. I think I tended to obsess a bit about what was going to happen, read everything, tried to consider all the ways that mccain would somehow pull off the miraculous upset that would condemn us all to cold winters standing in lines for government relief.

    but now Obama’s the president elect and I just want to avoid such a high level of involvement for a while. i’m actually beginning to feel a bit badly for Palin, the way she’s been thrown under the bus as the one to blame for the Republican loss.

    the peaceful transfer of such tremendous power every 8 years is the true miracle of American democracy. i think it was inevitable that at some point, the people of the nation would recognize true talent and actually vote according to their economic best interests.

  7. Feeling sorry for Palin is a HUGE mistake, Dave. She has a terrifyingly bright future in the GOP and, apparently, in feminist circles. See Paglia’s most recent column for Salon — http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2008/11/12/palin/index.html

  8. i’m encouraged by Palin’s bright future in the GOP. it means the Dems’ prospects for 2012 and beyond seem (at the moment) rosy.

    i just don’t think that anyone can squarely put the blame on her for mccain’s loss. he ignored his strengths in the center to pander to the people on the right who didn’t care for him too much to begin with. his message consisted of simply telling the electorate why they should fear Obama, and he didn’t look good on television.

    who in the world are these aides to attack Palin when they obviously did a very poor job of preparing her for her role?

    didn’t the same people advocating for Palin’s rise in 2012 argue that she won the debate against Biden? didn’t the continue to claim that she would electrify the far right base? didn’t these people swear up and down that the public would be fooled into believing that palin would be an adequate substitute for hillary clinton?

    the concrete evidence pointing to palin’s inevitable rise is probably warehoused with the iraqi nuclear arsenal and legitimate legal arguments for torture and extraordinary rendition.

    i think anointing palin the 2012 nominee one week after an historic election clearly illustrates the scope of the GOP’s desperation

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