I wrote the following hypothetical interview Nov 5, 2008, right after Obama’s election. I sought to address people who thought the new President was going to dramatically change life around the world, perhaps even in radical directions.
I thought, if straightforward analysis of Obama won’t be heard by people who are celebrating him, let’s try to at least agree on a standard against which to measure Obama’s time in office – a picture of what we would want and even expect from a sincerely caring and change-oriented president. Then we could all measure Obama against that standard, later, and instead of talking past one another, we would have something a bit “objective” to guide us.
I admit, I figured as time passed the need for this standard would decline, because the issue wouldn’t remain how good can Obama be, but rather, how bad can he get. We can see, after all, the actual impact of Obama’s choices – in the Mideast, in Latin America, regarding climate, and regarding health care and the economy, among other matters. But it turns out that naive hopes die hard, and perhaps even worse, informed hopes are hard to sustain.
At any rate, here is the hypothetical interview/essay I wrote earlier.
Imagine it is January 2, 2011.
Imagine that Barack Obama has been President of the U.S. for two full years and that the following interview with Obama takes place on prime time TV, as a way of situating what has occurred over those first two years and also to foreshadow what is forthcoming.
And since this is all make believe, let’s make believe the interviewer’s name is Barb Walt.
I believe what follows is not an absolutely impossible scenario for all times, though I don’t believe it will happen in the next two years. I don’t believe Barack Obama will take office with the views that I here place in his mouth or with the courage to act on those views I attribute to him. But I could be wrong, and of course I hope I am, and more importantly, it could happen another time.
I know that a great many people, unlike me, believe [as he begins his Administration] that Obama is absolutely sincere about empowering the working people, women, minorities, and young people of America, even at the expense of those with wealth and power.
Against all evidence of Obama’s own words, of the forces he is beholden to, of the inclinations of the "experts" he is welcoming into his administration, of the system preserving pressures he feels every day, and of past U.S. history – many people have an elated feeling that this man will transform the country. I fervently hope they are right, but I think they are wrong. I offer this essay to indicate what I think would justify their outlook.
Certainly Obama will be transformative, or not. That’s a given, like it will rain tomorrow or not. So…
Either: like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Barack Obama will be a man elected into office with major elite backing, who when he became President began as “only” a sincere reformer, but who was then polarized by elite resistance and inspired by popular activism, to become much more.
Or: unlike Chavez but like every past American President, Obama will not evolve into holding more radical views, will not stand up to conforming pressures, and will not learn from activists, but will instead oppose us.
Since many Obama voters anticipate the former outcome, the imagined interview below reveals what it might be like if things turn out as they hope. It describes what having a radicalized president with great courage might be like.
But if the future holds no interview remotely like the one below, and no Obama transformation remotely like the one described, and no President-inspired uprising like that reported, and if instead Obama becomes an eloquent mainstream solidifier of elite stability, then it will mean Obama has fallen way short of his supporters’ hopes, and it will mean it is incumbent on all who wanted a much more transformative outcome to keep pushing Obama’s administration and to keep building the activist means to move forward even as Obama becomes more of an obstacle than an aid to the task.
Which way will it turn out?