Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy in Theory

It's in my nature to take silver linings and look for clouds. So I must do so with the impending Obama presidency. This is a man I strongly supported, whom I voted for with glee, and whose judgment I've instinctively trusted since his now-famous DNC speech in 2004 almost had me standing and saluting in the living room.

There must be something wrong with the guy.

Here's my theory (and I use that word for a reason). You have an American male in his 40s, with a beautiful wife and two healthy, adorable daughters. He's Columbia and Harvard-educated, obviously smarter than 99.9 percent of humanity--which is exactly what you want in a president--but also focused and pragmatic enough to have beaten the Clinton Machine and won an election in an electoral landslide... despite being (truly) African American, having a "funny name," etc. etc. He's being compared to FDR and Lincoln even before taking the oath of office, and in fact he's a student of said former presidents.

This is the problem. Can you be as good as people simply by studying them? I'm not an FDR expert, but I know he lived with the debilitating effects of polio (or Guillain-Barré Syndrome, as some now believe). Lincoln was in many ways a mess, a man plagued by severe bouts of depression and who saw two of his children die before reaching their teens. Abe and FDR went through a LOT more than Obama has before leading their country.

In a bigger sense, I worry that each American generation, by virtue of our wealth and success (the last eight years not withstanding), has grown farther and farther removed from the deep and tragic hardships of its predecessors. Most of us expect to live long. We don't expect our children to die. We have drugs to mitigate every pain we might encounter, if we can afford them. The necessary self-denial of our individual and collective mortality is at an all-time high, because it's simply easier than ever before.

Is having some of those experiences a pre-requisite for good leadership and judgment? One can argue that they might hinder more than hurt, and that I'm glorifying pain, disease and depression in an almost tasteless way. I'll just say this: If Obama were exactly who he is, but had also weathered Joe Biden's (or John McCain's) personal and family tragedies, I'd feel reassured.

How terrible is that?

1 comment:

Mike said...

As usual, great arguments. The thing I TRUST about Obama, is he's wary of an easy answer--that is, he's comfortable (as far as we can tell) with complexity, even ambiguity.

I, too, am nervous about all these "best president" comparisons. Barack has a monumental task ahead of his administration. Let's revisit these arguments in three years (it will take two to get out of this recession, at the earliest).