It’s embarrassing to be among the fanatics of a relatively mainstream presidential candidate.
LA Times – Opinion – by Joel Stein – February 8, 2008
You are embarrassing yourselves. With your “Yes We Can” music video, your “Fired Up, Ready to Go” song, your endless chatter about how he’s the first one to inspire you, to make you really feel something — it’s as if you’re tacking photos of Barack Obama to your locker, secretly slipping him little notes that read, “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” Some of you even cry at his speeches. If I were Obama, and you voted for me, I would so never call you again.
What the Cult of Obama doesn’t realize is that he’s a politician. Not a brave one taking risky positions like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, but a mainstream one. He has not been firing up the Senate with stirring Cross-of-Gold-type speeches to end the war. He’s a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him. There’s talk about his charisma and good looks, but I know a nerd when I see one. The dude is Urkel with a better tailor.
All of this is clear to me, and yet I have fallen victim. I was at an Obama rally in Las Vegas last month, hanging at the rope line afterward in the cold night desert air, just to see him up close, to make sure he was real. I’d never heard a politician talk so bluntly, calling U.S. immigration policy “scapegoating” and “demagoguery.” I’d never had even a history teacher argue that our nation’s history is a series of brave people changing others’ minds when things were on the verge of collapse. I want the man to hope all over me.
Still, I can’t help but feel incredibly embarrassed about my feelings. In the “Yes We Can” music video that will.i.am made of Obama’s Jan. 8 speech, I spotted Eric Christian Olsen, a very smart actor I know. (His line is “Yes we can.”) I called to see if he had gone all bobby-soxer for Obama, or if he was just shrewdly taking a part in a project that upped his Q rating.
Turns out Olsen not only contributed money, he volunteered in Iowa and California and made hundreds of calls. He also sent out a mass e-mail to his friends that contained these lines: “Nothing is more fundamentally powerful than how I felt when I met him. I stood, my hand embraced in his, and … I felt something … something that I can only describe as an overpowering sense of Hope.” That’s the gayest e-mail I’ve ever read, and I get notes from guys who’ve seen me on E!
When I started to make fun of Olsen, he said: “I get that it’s a movement. But it’s not like a movement for Nickelback. For the first time, we should feel justified in our passion. You don’t have to feel embarrassed about it, buddy.” It was a convincing argument until he told me he cried during an Obama speech. That did not help me feel less lame.
So to de-Romeo-ize, I called someone immune to Obama’s hottie dreaminess: a white suburban feminist baby boomer. To get two things done at once, I called my mother.
My mom, a passionate Hillary Clinton supporter, immediately attacked Obamamania. “Some part of me wants to say, ‘People wake up. He has no plans.’ I get frustrated listening to his speeches after awhile,” she said. She also said that the new vacation house in Key West is really great and her vertigo hasn’t been acting up.
I started to feel a little more grounded again. Did I want to be some dreamer hippie loser, or a person who understands that change emerges from hard work and conflict? “People are projecting an awful lot onto him,” Mom said. “Almost like what was that movie with, oh, the movie, oh God. That English actor, he practically said nothing. Oh shoot. He was the butler and everybody loved him and what he was thinking and feeling. Do you know the movie I’m talking about? You don’t.” Hers, of course, is the demographic most likely to vote.
But she’s right. Obama is Peter Sellers in “Being There.” As a therapist, she’s seen the danger of ungrounded expectations. “You feel young again. You feel like everything is possible. He helps you feel that way and you want to feel that way; it’s a great marriage. Unfortunately, the divorce will happen very quickly.” Mom is the kind of realistic tough-talker who isn’t afraid to make divorce analogies to a child of divorce.
“We want what he represents,” she said. “A young, idealistic person who really believes it. And he believes it. He believes he can change the world. I just don’t think he can.”
Thing is, I’ve watched too many movies and read too many novels; I can’t root against a person who believes he can change the world. The best we Obamaphiles can do is to refrain from embarrassing ourselves. And I do believe that we can resist making more “We Are the World”-type videos. We can resist crying jags. We can resist, in every dinner argument and every e-mail, the word “inspiration.” Yes, we can.
Obamaphilia has gotten creepy. I couldn’t figure out if the two canvassers who came to my door Sunday had taken Ecstasy or were just fantasizing about an Obama presidency, but I feared they were going to hug me. Scarlett Johansson called me twice, asking me to vote for him. She’d never even called me once about anything else. Not even to see “The Island.”