Party’s Over—Time to Get Back to Work

By Becky O’Malley
Thursday November 20, 2008 - 10:08:00 AM

As the economic news goes daily from bad to worse, Obamamania continues unabated. The explosion of national good humor which started in the East Bay at about 6 o’clock on election night is still resonating in all the small encounters of daily life. When I went to the lab at Kaiser this week, I saw once again a technician whose cubicle was decorated pre-election with the handsome Shepard Fairey portrait of Barack which was everywhere this fall. The last time I saw her, she was cluck-clucking about John McCain’s links to the S&L crisis. This time, she was all smiles and jokes about the outcome, as were all her colleagues in the lab—and the election was a couple of weeks ago. In the waiting room, a stout grandmother with 2-year-old in tow sported an updated version of the ubiquitious Obama T-shirts, this one with the whole new first family on the front. In front of the Paramount on Friday night, a T-shirt vendor was fast selling out his inventory of new and improved post-election Obama models to well-dressed Oakland Symphony patrons. 

I’m barely old enough to remember the similar burst of admiration and euphoria which greeted the arrival of the Kennedy family in the White House. Some of the ingredients were the same. The Kennedys too were handsome and stylish, a welcome change from the more-than-somewhat stodgy Eisenhowers. But the Eisenhower family and his administration were generally civil and approximately literate, seldom accused of being mean or nasty. Jack Kennedy offered change, just as Barack Obama did, but all he needed to promise then was to “get the country moving again,” which he did. 

The difference now, among other things, is that Obama’s election was preceded by at least eight years of a presidency which was a continuing embarrassment from its very first day. We went with similarly crazy friends to G.W. Bush’s first inauguation to protest the way he and his Supreme Court cronies stole that election, and it’s been only downhill since then.  

Many of us were not much happier with the prior Clinton administration. We knew at the time that his much-ballyhooed deregulation was a recipe for disaster, though we didn’t know how long it would take to wreak its havoc. And Bill Clinton’s lurid sex scandals were nothing to be proud of either.  

The Messianic qualities of Barack Obama’s emergence on the national scene are somewhat unnerving. You have to keep reminding yourself that although he’s a graceful, intelligent, articulate and (praise the lord) literate youngish man with a charming family, he’s bound to have some flaws, which will only appear over time.  

World literature and mythology are full of images of death and resurrection: the Golden Bough, the Phoenix and more. The United States of America and its reputation in the world have been so beaten and battered in the last half-century, with just a short break in Jimmy Carter’s mostly honorable single term, that anyone respectable is bound to look like a savior, like the phoenix arising from the ashes.  

If you add Richard Nixon and GHW Bush’s terms to those of Bill and GW, it’s been a long drought around here. In the words of the song (and the title of the book) “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.” When the symbolic significance of Obama’s African ancestry is added to the mix, it’s an irresistible combination, bound to induce euphoria. 

That’s why it’s incumbent on those of us who are mightily impressed with Barack Obama and his whole family to keep our critical faculties intact. Despite good intentions and personal integrity, John Kennedy took the country in some unfortunate policy directions. The disastrous Vietnam war had its roots in the Kennedy administration.  

A cloud on this week’s sunny horizon is the lurking presence of Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, two of the villains in the Clinton economic debacle. Bob Scheer in his syndicated column at truthdig.com does a good job of skewering them, and Obama supporters everywhere should suggest to their hero that much better advice is available.  

Rahm Emmanuel, chosen for Obama’s chief of staff, is both good news and bad news. He’s smart and competent, but he used his brains and muscle to push Clinton’s dreadful welfare reform policies. His father seems to have worked with the Israeli terrorist group Irgun in his youth, and just caused a flap with racist-appearing anti-Arab remarks quoted in the Israeli press, though Rahm apologized for him later. Perhaps the son is wiser than the father, but let’s wait and watch. 

On the other hand, the list of excellent advisers that Obama has assembled is very long, so a few bad apples probably won’t spoil the whole bunch. But—to mix in one more metaphor—it’s time for the rose-colored glasses to come off. 

One more good news footnote: For Californians, the passage of Proposition 8 marred an otherwise triumphant election day, but the swift legal response backed by everyone from the NAACP to the ACLU looks like it has an excellent chance of getting that bad vote overturned on constitutional grounds. And for Berkeleyans, more good news seems to be that only four people in our whole city contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign, as compared to hundreds in the No on 8 column. A reader asked us to print the names of the foolish four, but that’s not really needed. They know who they are, and history is not on their side.