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September 18, 2008

Why Obama, by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Why Obama is a series of guest essays by musicians and authors, where they share their support for Democratic United States presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama and offer arguments why he needs to be elected president of the United States.

Todd Hasak-Lowy received his PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Currently an assistant professor of Hebrew language and literature at the University of Florida, he is the author of The Task of This Translator, a collection of stories. Captives is his first novel. He lives in Gainesville, Florida.

In his own words, here is Todd Hasak-Lowy's Why Obama essay:

Why Obama, or “The Intervention”

I voted for Nader in 2000 (in California, thankfully). Other than that, from 1988 through 2004 I voted for the Democrats’ nominee.

I wrote a soon-to-be-published novel (Captives, Spiegel & Grau, 10/14/08)about a screenwriter imagining a sniper killing off corrupt lobbyists and unethical government officials. And I identify with my screenwriter, who identifies with his federal agent, who realizes he doesn’t want to catch the killer. This is what has happened to my imagination following a term and a half of The Worst President Ever.

I really, really dislike the Republican Party and its leaders.

In short, the only way I’m voting for McCain this fall is by accident (I now live in Florida, I suppose anything is possible).

If the full version of the question after which this essay series gets its name is “Why Obama and Not McCain?” well, then I can’t much help you. If at this late date you’re still willing or even considering letting another Republican within a Rose Garden of the White House, in this case another Republican whose meager efforts to distance himself from (insert truly mind-blowing litany of Bush-sponsored gaffes, offenses, and crimes against humanity here) hardly constitute change, let alone change we can believe in, then I just can’t help you anymore. Not with only 500-1000 words. Not without permission to slap you around a little. If you’re still thinking about voting for McCain, then some deep-seated ideology or genuinely ossified world-view is to blame. I’ll leave the job of persuading people like you to someone more stalwart than myself.

What I will do is make a case for why unenthusiastic Obama supporters might want to become a little more enthusiastic. Why you might want to donate some money, or knock on the door of an undecided neighbor, or even write your own column about why you support Obama. And I will do so without reference to a single specific policy that Obama might institute as president.

Instead, I will make a case for his presidency by relying greatly on the organic theory of nationalism, which views the nation as a single body. Mine might not be among the best obvious reasons for supporting Obama, but you’ve already heard those. Read on, America, for a different case for Obama, one proposed in the spirit of change.

We, the United States of America, are, I contend, decidedly unwell. We are unwell the way a person becomes unwell after decades or even a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors. We are a nation that—in some cases literally, in some cases figuratively—eats poorly and too much at that, doesn’t exercise, mistreats and bullies its friends to the point of near complete social isolation, acquires and then squanders unprecedented wealth, has piles of crap it doesn’t need in every corner of its house, continues to buy more crap on credit, and that, above all, lies to itself each and every day in order to convince itself that everyone loves it, that it does nothing wrong, and that if we just, I don’t know, believe in our inherently perfect essence that everything will be good again.

What the United States needs, more than any particular policy change, more than universal health care or a quick withdrawal from Iraq, is an intervention. We need to be sat down, or we need to sit ourselves down, and we need to say or be told, and in such a way that we will have no choice but to listen, that this has gone far enough, that it’s time to take a long look at ourselves in the mirror, that we need to admit there’s a problem, that this just can’t go on any longer.

Of course, the challenge confronting any intervention stems from the fact such a drastic course of action is required precisely because the behaviors are so deeply entrenched. The unwell person or nation’s self-conception is wildly inaccurate or riddled with denial. As such, before behaviors can change, before, say, the person can stop drinking so much or invading sovereign nations half-way around the world, this person must find a way to think very different thoughts about himself. This is where Barack Hussein Obama comes in.

Try this little exercise: Take out a piece of paper, go to the relevant internet site of your choice, and write down all the names of the American Presidents from Washington to Bush Junior. Then write down “Barack Obama” (middle name optional). Read the list aloud a few times. Feel free, if you’re in a hurry, to write down and read aloud only every fifth name, or just those presidents whose first name starts with “J,” or whose last name ends with “N.” It won’t make a difference, so long as you add “Barack Obama” at the end. Just be sure to read your list aloud a few times.

This exercise is jarring in terms of both signifier (the names) and signified (the eminent dude attached to the name). Sure I’m playing, among other things, the race card here. But you want an intervention? Try hearing and saying “President Barack Obama” a few thousand times over the next four to eight years. Try looking at images of an American President with a genuine afro or of a first lady whose maiden name is “Robinson” (nearly presidential in the 18th century sense of the term, you must admit), and then tell me that America can’t change in fundamental ways. The fact that the person Barack Obama may indeed be more intelligent than many of those pastier and/or slave-owning previous presidents, that he may want to institute all sorts of policies that most of us want desperately, that’s just gravy for me.

The moment Barack Obama places his hand on that Bible (if only it were a Quran) next January, trust me, the notion of starting your own garden or tearing up your credit cards or biking to work or attending a protest once a month won’t seem so far-fetched anymore. The Wicked Witch will finally be dead, and Dorothy (Cecily Tyson, not Judy Garland) will rule the day. At that moment, America, anything and everything will be open to change.

Todd Hasak-Lowy links:

Todd Hasak-Lowy's Wikipedia entry

Barack Obama link:

Barack Obama presidential campaign website

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Why Obama essays
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews