US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama shake hands with guests during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 33rd Annual Awards Gala at the Washington Convention Center. Obama has laid into Republicans over taxes and immigration, seeking to capitalize on a rare ray of hope for his Democrats ahead of crunch mid-term elections.
Photo Credit: AFP - Tim Sloan
January 23, 2012
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Progressives were furious at Barack Obama a few weeks ago. Between his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act and the horrible decision to overrule the FDA on emergency contraception availability, added to his pursuit of the “war on terror” using methods as questionably legal as Dick Cheney's, it felt like the last vestiges of hope and change from 2008 had finally burned out.
But on the internet these past few weeks, the disappointing President Obama ceded the spotlight once more to the beguiling Candidate Obama, reminding some of his former supporters how utterly entranced we were by the man we pulled the lever for three long years ago--and leading us to wonder how much it matters now.
The Man Vs. The Politician
To put this dichotomy another way, there's the political Obama who seems, maddeningly, to value compromise itself over what compromise actually achieves--who doesn’t come out swinging. And then there’s the cultural Obama, who is, like, totally swinging: comfortable being himself and also one of us. He's clever, attuned to social currents, a little bit dorky, accessible, with an image we love to see, admire and joke about -- and most importantly who refuses to be cowed by the racist tenor of attacks he receives. In his cultural existence, he can blend an attitude that's above the fray with that refusal to bow to his critics. It's a balance he has yet to achieve politically.
Before I dissect this duality, it's important to note that some liberals have been loyal to the president despite his betrayals and disappointments (and been dubbed Obama-bots), while others remain furious at President Obama for some of his more disastrous policy decisions -- and will be unmoved by his reemergence into the cultural space. There's also been a robust debate about the racial element
of progressive disappointment at the President.
But I'm referring here to a broad swath of us who to some degree are in both categories -- who despair over the politician and delight in the man, who do sympathize with his position politically while still feeling he's failed to lead at key moments. How much will his personality, as it's showcased during election season, be able to reel that group back in?
Despite brilliant efforts from his campaign to begin that wooing -- selling his voice singing Al Green as a ringtone, or hawking a “birth certificate” mug
poking fun at the birthers -- the rise of Occupy Wall Street indicates this: for many young Obama supporters, his first term demonstrated the utter failure of the political system at large, its inability to be transformed by one leader. Our journey has parallels to his own political journey
, moving from a politician who truly believed in the concept of hand across the aisle to a politician, it seems, who has realized that in Washington, you need to fight.
Obama Rules The Internet
So in embracing "change we can believe in" perhaps we, the supporters, were as naive as he was. Still, Candidate Obama's reemergence reminds us there are some things that a leader can transform. So let's return to the Obama who has dominated the internet this past week with new viral memes starring his best self. Each one offers us insight into his appeal to progressives, even the most fed-up ones.
First, there’s the photo
of him giving a fistbump to a maintenance man in a White House hallway, which I keep seeing on Facebook. Can you imagine Mitt Romney, or even notoriously germophobic George W. Bush having such a natural “man of the people” touch?
It's even become its own LOLCat:
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