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October 24, 2008

Why Obama, by Jeff Weiss

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.

A native of Los Angeles, Jeff Weiss written about music and pop culture for a publications including The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Idolator, Village Voice, Stylus, The Arizona Republic, & The State. He also maintains the music blog, The Passion of the Weiss.

In his own words, here is Jeff Weiss 's Why Obama essay :

Let’s be real: this essay isn’t just preaching to the choir; it’s reciting the litany, swigging the Eucharist wine and making inappropriate suggestions to the alter boys. If you’re still undecided less than 20 days before the election, you’ve either been hiding in the remote Pakistani badlands* or you’re really, really attention-starved. In the case of the latter, let me humbly suggest reality television as a viable career option.

So, why Obama? In the words of Gob Bluth, “Come on!” Do we have to go through this whole rigmarole again? I mean, you seem like a decent soul interested in a greener, more internationally respected and energy independent nation, one where the right to choose is preserved (and by that, I’m not talking the choice between aerial wolf hunting versus plain, Joe Six-Pack wolf hunting).

Instead, I’d rather ramble about something tangentially related to this election: namely, how the Republican Party has cynically conflated the concept of an “elite” with the philosophy of “elitism.” It’s an old trick, particularly at a time when the political situation favors the opposing party and Republicans can’t run on a record of prosperity. Well aware that its only hope is to create a shell game to distract the voters, the McCain/Palin ticket has opted to focus on the Senator’s military record at the expense of his lack of new ideas; turn Palin into a Maharajah of the mundane: half sexless pin-up, half Annie Oakley; and demonize both Obama and the ostensibly execrable “liberal elite media” who love him. Of course, as a member of the 4th estate, the latter designation strikes me as particularly hilarious, as it would to anyone who has ever seen a journalist’s bank account.

None is this is new news. Ever since Nixon and his crooked cronies fried up their Southern Strategy, Republicans have snagged every election save Bill Clinton’s eight year stretch at the end of the 20th Century.** And even then, who knows what would’ve happened in 1992 had Ross Perot not garnered nearly 20 percent of the vote. The formula’s simple: lump all Democrats in with their “elite” Hollywood supporters; subtly stoke racial fears (whether explicitly: Willie Horton, or implicitly: “Who is Barack Hussein Obama?”); and pander shamelessly to rural, religious voters, big business and sundry moneyed voters. The effect is to portray both Democratic leadership and their followers as traitorous, big government-loving zombies with a taste for high taxes and the flesh of aborted fetuses. Odd coming from a party who would support a raptor like Dick Cheney for vice-president, a ghoul who looks like the sort to devour a delicious baby or at least wear a vest made from real gorilla chest.

If anything, the McCain/Palin ticket best resembles the common man worship and belligerent militarism of Andrew Jackson and his running mate John C. Calhoun, a detestable pro-slavery bigot best known for his States’ Rights ideology and for having the most finely coiffed locks ever to grace the Senate floor. True to the populist reputation he’d cultivated, on Inauguration Day, 1828, Jackson*** infamously opened up The White House to the public, a move that produced a howlingly drunk, china-shattering mob who only left the building after being lured outside by vats of punch placed on the lawn. One gets the sense that a repeat performance is in store if the Palin family and their wacky, “f*ckin’ redneck” son-in-law, Levi Johnston, hit Washington D.C. come January.

Of course, any cursory analysis of American history shows that we shouldn’t want anything but the elite for our highest office. In fact, if our founding fathers were tried by today’s standards of the Republican Party, they’d probably be decried as mackerel-eating, New-England-Courant-reading, snuff-snorting nancy boys. After all, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson & Co. were polymaths in powdered wigs who worshipped French Enlightenment philosophers and devised the electoral college and a system of checks and balances precisely because they feared mob mentality. Hell, Americans didn’t even popularly elect senators until 1913. If anything, this country is built on a bedrock foundation of elitism, with some of our most lauded presidents (The Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, JFK) emerging from a Patrician class.

Of course, I’m not really trying to defend elitism per se—rather, just trying to point out that it doesn’t necessarily impede success. We fight with elite troops; we venerate elite athletes; why wouldn’t we want the best and brightest to guide us through turbulent times? Besides, the point ought to be moot in the first place, considering the contradiction of calling a man raised by a single mom on food stamps an “elitist.” Obama might be light on experience and could very well be overrated, but you can neither deny his impressive articulateness nor his clarity of thought.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Over the last 18 months, Obama has repeatedly exhibited this trait, most notably in his historic race speech, but also via his sober, cogent performances in the debates and through his over-deliberate but measured response to the financial crisis. He’s been able to navigate a maelstrom of liabilities, be they race, nomenclature, or humble origin. He’s proved his pragmatic instincts by nominating the sane centrist Joe Biden and has largely resisted overt pandering (though to be fair, the protectionism he showed in the primaries and in his compromises regarding FISA, Ethanol, off-shore drilling and clean coal prove he’s occasionally objectionable). Moreover, he managed to defeat Hillary Clinton without making a house fall on her head. Not bad.

With the intellectual dimness of this reality-television-as-historical epoch starting to slowly recede, it’s refreshing to be able to think about a president who values empiricism over what’s in his gut, one who knows nuance. Both Obama and Bush may have attended graduate school at Harvard, but there’s no doubt which one valued the notions of intellectual curiosity and self-improvement. So, go ahead and call me an elitist—it doesn’t sting. After all, the very definition of patriotism is wanting the best for your country.

*Even then, I assume they get satellite in those caves.
**I’m not counting Carter’s win in 1976 because, post-Watergate, even an acid-freak like George Clinton could’ve probably painted the white house black had he run as a Democrat.
***Andrew Jackson once savagely beat a would-be assassin with a cane. This has nothing to do with anything; I just find it a wildly amusing historical tidbit.

Jeff Weiss links:

Jeff Weiss's music blog

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