John’s put this at the end of a Balloon Juice post today about the loyalty oath flare-up out here — I remember having to do this when I first worked at a public library back in 1988 — and his sentiment kinda describes my week on the political front. There’s very little to say that doesn’t make me shrug and look around a bit and want to think about other things (which I’ve been doing a lot of — I think I wrote something like two longer articles and a slew of reviews this week, not to mention the various blog posts and so forth).
The problem with this mindset, as John would be the first to agree with, is the sense of apathy it can engender if it becomes a default mode. I’ve dealt with it before and will deal with it again, and it’s ultimately a personal thing, so it’s not like I have a prescription to deal with it. Furthermore, one has to be fair and direct it at yourself as much as anyone else or anything else, so that way you avoid tripping yourself up, or at least are aware of your own weak points in your arguments.
In an interesting thread over on ILX — very much a self-consciously ‘left’ site in general, though not in specific intent — Ethan asked a straightforward and well-deserved question: ‘what are barack obama’s flaws?’ And this from a strong supporter of Obama, it has to be immediately noted — as he describes, he is wondering whether mindset and implicit beliefs in Obama’s appealing side end up overshadowing problems (something which one can easily argue in reverse for candidates one does not like but that’s another exercise for another time). In the typically interesting but crabby discussion that followed, a sentiment stated more than once was this: “the dude comes across as too trusting in america’s ability to be smart about shit.” A counterresponse was equally valid — “his flaw is that he’s TOO right about everything?”
But the larger point is still worth looking at — not necessarily just in the case of what Obama might be thinking, though I think there is something to it. Trying to unpack the full sentiments of what is essentially a lot of self-back-patting can be a trick. Those committed to particular political points of view, whether partisan or not, do so in the firm belief that they have some clear insight into the truth of things that is missed by others, and which can be conveyed to them by means of argument and discussion (or repetition or appeals to greater authority or whatever else might be to hand). The feeling which results when something that appears to be patently obviously wrong comes to the fore, or as a result of something that was motivated by a mindset that no longer seems applicable or of interest (and that’s understating things), can be one of not trying to argue or discuss anything, though — it can be just a feeling of ‘good GOD aren’t we over this?’ To paraphrase the ILX comment, aren’t we collectively smart about shit — at least some of the time?
My feelings on the oath are that while the intent might have been understandable at the time of its creation, and while I have no problems myself with having sworn that oath so many years back now, it leads itself open to abuse and misinterpretation, as I feel has been the case here. My sense of patriotism, as I’ve muttered many times before, is something that I don’t think requires a specifically formal commitment, or is one which looks open-eyed at an imperfect system and considers ways to improve it, however haphazardly. Further, as John cogently notes: “if your goal is to subvert the government of the United States, you are going to have no problem lying about it before hand.” One could go on but I essentially agree with his conclusion: this IS stupid, or is a stupid situation, a forcing of hands that was not necessary and which deserves review and reconsideration; if as Cal State claims their hands are forced by the law, then it is time to review the law, simply put. If it is not, then I have to wonder.
But given that type of situation, turning back to the question about that putative flaw of Obama’s — is this a depressing confirmation that we can’t be smart about things in general? Does he place too much faith in that where — some would argue — the other major candidates play on cynicism in order to succeed, that a population will be dumb more often than not? Deifying Obama is not my goal nor has it ever been, but it is interesting to my mind that he allows for nuance more regularly than many candidates, and that in nuance can be strength. It is not a magic or mystic solution by any means, nor is it in itself a ‘good’ quality — nuance can be used to misinterpret or evade, and my sense is that Obama uses that as a canny political tool as much as anyone does. His gift remains his ability to balance that out with a positive belief in ‘the system’ as improvable, not beyond redemption — that we can all indeed be smart about something.
I’ve not spoken about Rev. Wright at this point because I feel I have little to say, beyond thinking that the conflation of issues involved do not at this point strike me as being the apocalyptic problems for Obama’s candidacy as they have been made out to be. I think ChenZhen is right to say, as he did a few days back, that this “is a media-driven controversy now” more than anything else. The fact that a number of superdelegates and others have endorsed Obama or switched allegiances to him *after* Wright’s speech and Obama’s response is of the most interest to me, and should be to others as well. There’s still six months to go and I await the unfolding of all this with the patience I have always urged because nothing more can be sped up.
Now, maybe I’m being very stupid about that. Could well be. But collectively? Ultimately, I think, that the naivete people might see in Obama’s stances, the belief that stupidity rules over all, is understandable but should not be seen as crippling or constant. I think there’s a reason why people want to be vigilant against stupidity, and a reason why people eventually get tired and throw in the towel. The hope should always be that this won’t become everyone’s conclusion — and I’m always hopeful there.