First Black President of America Became a Feel-Good Brand

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“How do you feel about the election?” we were asked by a friend at the pub last night.

“I have a cold. I don’t feel very well.”

“But about the election? About Obama?”

“Well, it’s great that a black man can be elected President in America. But it doesn’t exactly expiate the great national sin of slavery does it? Martin Luther King said he dreamt about an America where a man could be judged for the content of his character and not the colour of his skin. But it looks like most black people voted for Obama because he’s black, not because of what he believes. Not that it bothers me much. It’s probably a great thing that 12% of the American population woke up today and felt like they belonged to an America where anything really is possible. It may be the first time many of them felt that way. It’s great.”

“That doesn’t sound so optimistic.”

“It’s realistic. It is what it is. If people were proud of America for seeing past race, well then I reckon American could justifiably proud for surprising the world again. But from what I saw, people were more proud of Obama than they were for America.”

“So what?”

“So that’s the takeaway from this election. This election wasn’t about the deficit, global warming, or the neo-cons. It was about a vote people could make to feel better about themselves. Obama offered people that chance. The Republicans got exactly what they deserved for betraying small-government, fiscally-conservative, sound-money and non-interventionist foreign policy principles. But they also underestimated how badly people want to believe in something today. This election was all about pathos, not logos.”

“You make it sound like it was a Greek tragedy.”

“More like a comedy. It wasn’t a campaign at all. It was one long personal narrative, a two-year reality TV show with some world-class editing and producing. Barrack Obama convinced people that his story was America’s story. Once he was able to sell them that story, there was only one way it could end. Americans love a winner.”

“But isn’t he like a black Kennedy?”

“I have no idea what that even means. Race still matters in America just like religion still matters. The things that make us different aren’t always bad. Besides, that just sounds like a bunch of romance and nostalgia from people who have always wanted believe that a dynamic leader could take us toward better, more enlightened government. Don’t these people have romance and drama in their own lives? Why are they living vicariously through Obama’s life? I understand wanting to be a part of something greater than yourself. That’s why I work on the Daily Reckoning. But anytime people feel like that, they usually end up doing something stupid like burning books or drinking Kool-Aid.”

“Not always. The Civil Rights movement was about being part of something greater than yourself. That turned out okay.”

“Of course. But look, all I’m saying is that this wasn’t a transcendent election. It was a synthetic election. The power of America’s mass media and entertainment image-making machine was harnessed to a candidate for national office. Obama became a feel-good brand that would magically repair America’s damaged reputation in the world and her economy at home. But the Obama brand has all the depth and staying power of a catchy pop tune. It’s like Mountain Dew, all sugar rush, no nutritional value. You feel better but you’re not getting any healthier.”

“You sound bitter. Or drunk.”

“Not at all. Just a little alarmed. Modern politics is about the manipulation of people’s emotions (fear, hope, anger, envy, and sloth) through words and images and really compelling but hugely false promises. The Obama campaign was a masterpiece in manipulation, a triumph of style over content. McCain just couldn’t find a big enough lie to latch on to. The campaign also represents the triumph of the cult of personality in American politics. And anytime people have faith in a man over faith in ideas, it’s dangerous. We’re supposed to be a nation of laws, where our ideas—equality before the law, opportunity, freedom of speech—command our loyalty.”

“You’re just a sore loser.”

“Hardly. I lose all the time. I’m used to it. And you know I don’t even believe in voting. In fact, that’s what’s sad about voting. The high voter turnout was a disaster for people who love liberty.”

“How can you possibly say that? Isn’t voting an obligation in a democracy? I think it’s great so many Americans finally cared about who leads them.”

“I said I love liberty, not democracy. Do you think high voter turnout ensures that you get a better result or better government? Harrumph! When people turn out in such large numbers, it’s a triumph for State power. It means that people who believe the government should have a great role in your life have succeeded in politicising ever greater aspects of private life. Everything problem becomes political. And every solution requires a new law. Yesterday we learned that most Americans believe in big government power, they just disagree about whom it should be directed against.”

“That’s awfully cynical.”

“Ask yourself why people have so much secular faith in politics and in “transcendent” men like Obama. Why? It’s because for the last one-hundred years, people have lost their faith in the institutions which used to give their life meaning and purpose…things like family, community, the local school, or the local church. All those relationships have become lost because they’ve become Federalised, with Big Government as the mediator. I say lost, but I think that those kinds of voluntary associations have been deliberately undermined by people who believe in the pursuit of government power to enforce their moral outlook on the world. The entire world.”

“Now you sound like a freak.”

“What’s new? But hear me out. You could argue that it’s a biological imperative for us to believe our lives mean something. For some people, having children—the ultimate vote of confidence in the future—is one of way giving life purpose and meaning. But take someone like Viktor Frankl. He survived the Holocaust. He says that men can find meaning in their lives in three ways. First, through work that matters. Second, through relationships with other people. Third, through the attitude which we choose to have when we encounter the suffering life inevitably throws our way.”

“So?”

“Well, today people are largely alienated from their work. Not to sound like Marx too much. But we see work as something we must do to pay off the mortgage. We don’t see work as…the work we want to do with our lives. So most of us don’t find meaning in our work. It’s labour with sweat but no fruit.”

“What about family?”

“We all live alone in little cubes and sit in front of our fake campfires (televisions) while e-mailing and texting each other constantly. We’re completely free to pursue our individual goals and desires and selfish pursuits. And we have more ways than ever to communicate. Yet we find ourselves more alone and more medicated than ever.”

“You’re depressing me man. Do you want another beer?”

“Let me just finish this bit about suffering, then we’ll have some whiskey. We don’t suffer anymore, at least not most of us in the Western world. We were born into a world of plenty. Plenty of energy. Plenty of credit. Plenty of food. Plenty of surplus. Suffering, in the modern world, has no redeeming value. No value at all. To the extent we do it at all, we do it voluntarily in the gym, on the tread mill, or perhaps in the commute we are forced to endure to get to work. But those are just superficial kinds of suffering. They aren’t in the service of any worthwhile purpose which makes us feel like our lives have meaning.”

“What does any of this have to do with Obama?”

“He made people feel like their lives had meaning by voting for him. I don’t know how he pulled it off. But people used to find meaning in day-to-day relationships. Family, friends, neighbours. The cult of individual materialism and Nanny State paternalism has made the relationship between a man and his government the most important relationship in the modern world. I find that utterly depressing. I’m thinking about getting a dog to protest.”

“So what is your point?”

“People are going to be disappointed. Some of them will be devastated. Exalted political rhetoric can make you feel good for awhile, the way you might feel when your sports team wins a championship. But the sun comes up the next day and your life is still your life, with all its challenges, fears, and opportunities. Obama can’t live it for you. He can’t pay your mortgage, fuel up your car, make you feel better about your job, your love life, or your relationship with your parents and kids. Your life is still your own. Like my mom used to day, wherever you go, there you are.”

“I disagree with you on the mortgage part. But I see what you’re saying. You should stop drinking beer. Look what it does to your gut. Why don’t we go to the gym tomorrow forget this conversation ever happened?”

Dan Denning
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.
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Comments

  1. Obama Barack, Jimmy Carter and JFK – Clues to the Future.

    “Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote…

    “He is the 16th senator to ascend to the office, and the first since Kennedy’s election in 1960…” (Robert Barnes & Michael D. Shear, Obama Makes History, bloomberg.com, November 5, 2008).

    In the history of the Republican party, (Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president), only twice have the Republicans held the presidency for two consecutive terms before losing office, before George W. Bush’s Administration (2001-2009). The previous Administations were – Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) and Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford (1969-1977).

    Now that the Republicans have lost office after two terms, the post- Eisenhower administration of Democrat John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson and the post Nixon/Ford administration of Democrat James E. Carter may provide clues for what the future may hold.

    “All in all, how Barack Obama responds to the formidable set of economic challenges could well determine how he is remembered in history: either as an FDR who changed the US political landscape for a generation, or as a Jimmy Carter, whose failure to tackle the economic challenges of the 1970s led to a one-term presidency and the election of Republican Ronald Reagan” (Steve Schifferes, Obama’s uphill task on US economy, bbc.co.uk, November 6, 2008).

    The Jimmy Carter rhyme will be looked at first followed by the JFK rhyme. In the latter, particular interest is the Kennedy boom and crash. See below for the uncanny similarities between 1960 and 2008.

    (Chart economagic .com)

    The Jimmy Carter Rhyme

    “”Unfortunately, the next president’s No. 1 priority is going to be preventing the biggest financial crisis in possibly the last century from turning into the next Great Depression,” says Austan Goolsbee, an Obama adviser. �That has to be No. 1. Nobody ever wanted that to be the priority. But that’s clearly where we are” (David Leonhardt, Top Priority Is Stabilizing the Patient, nytimes.com, November 5, 2008).

    Now that Barak Obama is going to be the next president of the United States of America the ‘rhyme’ of the 1970s with the 2000s takes on more significance in viewing the timeline of the future sharemarket crash and great recession.

    In the 1960s we had two Democratic presidential terms, in which the Dow Jones reached its valuation high. This was followed by two Republican presidential terms, in which the Dow Jones achieved its nominal high. Then followed the one term Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter.

    In the 1990s we had two Democratic presidential terms, in which the Dow Jones reached its valuation high. This was followed by two Republican presidential terms, in which the Dow Jones achieved its now nominal high. Soon to follow is the Democratic administration of Barack Obama.

    For the last year the ‘rhyme’ of three four-year Republican administrations was given precedence over the Bush/Nixon ‘rhyme’ for viewing the future.

    The ’70s-’00s rhyme was overshadowed by the nominal Dow Jones high occurring in the third year of George Bush’s second term as president as opposed to the last year of Richard Nixon’s first term as president. This late occurrence suggested that a new nonimal high may be yet future and it would come in another Republican administration; this was viewed with the 1920s-2000s rhyme, and with the precedent of Crisis then Last Hurrah in stockmarket booms; with the last two rhymes still relevant for the future.

    Nominal highs in the Dow Jones, in the P/E ratio longwave cycle, has occurred in Republican Administrations. This suggests the 2007 nominal high in the Dow maybe the high for this cycle.

    The nominal high of 1973 (1,051.70) came under threat in 1976 (1,074.79) and in 1981 (1,024.05).

    With the present nominal high in the Dow coming late in George Bush’s second term there has not yet been a counterpart to the major rally of 1974-76, that began in the recession of 1973-75; but there could soon be:

    “The S&P 500 Index may be on the cusp of a rally by Inauguration Day, based on the speed of its tumble from last year’s peak and the time it took stocks to gain before recessions ended in 1975, 1982 and 1991, data compiled by Bloomberg show. This year’s plunge in stocks suggests that equity investors anticipate an economic contraction as severe as the one that began under Richard Nixon that will end in July.

    “The S&P 500’s slump since last year’s high is the steepest for a comparable period since the gauge fell 43 percent in the 13 months ended in October 1974, Bloomberg data show.

    “The economy then was mired in a recession that lasted 16 months and ended in March 1975, five months after the equity market began its rebound. During the recessions of 1982 and 1991, the S&P 500 began to climb four months and five months before the economy started to recover, respectively.

    “Based on the market’s history of anticipating economic recoveries, the S&P 500 may embark on its next bull market in February, about a month after Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20” (Elizabeth Stanton, U.S. Stocks Post Biggest Post-Election Drop on Economic Concern, bloomberg.com, November 5, 2008).

    The 1976 Dow high was eventually followed by recession in 1980, and the 1981 Dow high was soon followed by recession in 1982-83.

    “The current unemployment rate, 6.1 percent – up more than a percentage point since April – is still relatively mild by post-World War II standards. The highest level since the Great Depression, 10.8 percent, came in November and December of 1982 as the economy was shaking off a severe recession.

    “The unemployment rate hit 9 percent during the mid-1970s recession…” (Louis Uchitelle, Spending Stalls and Businesses Slash U.S. Jobs, nytimes.com, October 26, 2008).

    To be continued.

    Post Iraq – Post Vietnam

    “Outside this country, most people would probably agree with Madeleine Albright’s judgement when she spoke to me: “I think Iraq will go down in history as the greatest disaster of American foreign policy – worse than Vietnam”…

    “America is no longer the power it was. Without meaning to, President Bush demonstrated that. It can still lead, but it is no longer in a position to dictate to the wider world…

    “Barack Obama clearly understands this…

    “This is no guarantee that he will be a success as President. Jimmy Carter understood the US’s reduced position in the post-Vietnam world, and he refused to dictate to the world. Nowadays most Americans regard him as a failure” (John Simpson, President Obama and the world, bbc.co.uk, November 5, 2008).

    The JFK Rhyme

    “The Dow had risen steadily in the first half of 1959, but there was a sell-off in the fall, after which the market recovered to close at a new all-time high of 697. But there were indications that a new recession was developing… More than three decades had passed since the Great Crash, but its specter haunted Wall Street whenever the economy gave indications of a downturn or the market sold off…

    “Stocks declined sharply in January [1960], recovered somewhat, and then plunged again, not stoppiong before cracking the 600 level in March. Richard Russell, a leading technician, wrote that the long-awaited collapse was imminent. But [George] Schaefer [of Indianpolis, the somewhat eccentric publisher of the Dow Theory Trader, [who] had a large following among market theoreticians in the late 1950] disagreed; he remained convinced that one last upward spurt was needed before the house came tumbling down. Hamilton Bolton, a proponent of the Elliottwave Theory, told subscribers that “we are well-entered in the fifth and final upwave – the last in the bull market, and so seemed to agree with Schaefer.

    “There was a mood of Armageddon on Wall Street in 1960. Although stocks see-sawed for the first half year, the Eisenhower bull market clearly had ended.

    “The recession deepened… The automobile companies closed down assembly lines and the housing industry was dormant… the third Eisenhower recession was the most crippling of all.

    “By then the economy was close to bottom, and a sluggish recover would commence in October and November, though this was not realized at the time, of course. The turnabout came too late and too faint to help the fading presidential candidacy of Ricahrd Nixon. “In October, usually a month of rising employment, the jobless rolls increased by 452,000,” Nixon would write in his memoirs [cp. the 157,000 jobs lost in October 2008]. “All the speeches, television broadcasts, and precinct work in the world could not counteract that one hard fact”…

    “Eisenhower’s successor, John Kennedy, had based a good deal of his campaign upon the need to “get the country moving again,” and he spoke of his willingness to “seek new directions”… (Robert Sobel, The Last Bull Market, pp.67-69).

    “On the last day of 1960 Wall Street was in a euphoric New Year’s Eve mood… the last Eisenhower administration was expiring amid general stagnation and a mild business recession, and the market, then as nearly always reflected hope or fear about the future rather than current facts, was clearly reacting to the go-ahead spirit created through both instinct and intention by a young President-Elect, John F. Kennedy. People felt that now there would be action, movement, indeed forward movement; good things, never mind what, were bound to be ahead…” (John Brooks, The Go-Go years, p.26).

    “The Cult of Obama” – Sydney Morning Herald headline, November 6, 2008

    “The new mood persisted and grew; very soon, in fact, it grew ominously from cheerfulness to something near mania…

    “By mid-February the stock averages were up some 15 percent from their October lows, and there began to be talk of a “Kennedy boom.” Not even the Cuban Bay of Pigs disaster in mid-April could stem the tide…” (John Brooks, The Go-Go years, pp.26-27).

    “…there were unmistakable signs signs in March that the recession was ending, and although Kennedy had done nothing to make this possible, he enjoyed the political benefits therefrom.

    “The combination of fresh attractive leadership and the kind of moderation in practice the American people appeared to prefer at the time helped boost Kennedy’s popularity…

    “The Dow closed at 686 on April 12 [1962], giving what Dow theorists considered a “sell signal,” which would mark the beginning of a bearish phase…

    “As it happened, the signal had not been false…

    “The Kennedy Crash had begun…” (Robert Sobel, The Last Bull Market, pp.70-89).

    [In a reversal of The Cuban [Soviet] missile crisis of 1962 we have:

    “President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia greeted his future American counterpart, Senator Barack Obama, with bristling language on Wednesday, promising to place short-range missiles on Russia’s western border if Washington proceeded with its planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe” (Ellen Barry and Sophia Kishkovsky, Russia Warns of Missile Deployment, nytimes.com, November 5, 2008)].

    Reply
  2. The cult of personality has been around since the Pharoahs in Egypt.

    Get over it.

    Reply
  3. Sorry Dan, but you’ve got it all wrong.

    People voted for Barack Obama because he was the best candidate, with the best policies, not because he is black or because it made them feel good. They voted for him because they understand that he and his policies have a greater chance of improving their standard of living than the other candidate and his policies did.

    Voters only had to look around them at the mess their country is in, and which side of politics has delivered that mess to them. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. A vote for the Republican Party was a vote for more of the same. America is supposedly one of the greatest countries in the world, but they cannot even deliver universal health care to their citizens.

    However, in a country that does not have compulsory voting there needs to be something to encourage the disenfranchised portion of the population to vote. The fact that he is African – American probably helped encourage people from minority groups to vote. On the other hand, if the party in power had delivered ANY improvements to their society over the last eight years, they might have voted for them, or simply not voted.

    Douglas Harley
    November 7, 2008
    Reply
  4. Someone’s watched Fight Club one too many times..

    Not that I disagree with you at all, I love that movie.

    Unpopular Truth
    November 7, 2008
    Reply
  5. Excellent commentary, we need more of this perspective in the states. Posted and linked to you on my blog at http://lethemeatcake.blogivists.com/.

    Reply
  6. No – they voted for Obama simply because he was not Bush. McCain was not only too similiar to Bush, he was old. Although, personally, I would’ve loved Palin as president, just for the comedic value, I think the world would’ve fallen off it’s axis. Too Dr Strangelove.

    Reply
  7. You have pinpointed the tension between the the statistics ,Obama’s victory was created by economics and political luck, and the ‘journey of a hero into a new world’ narrative that the media and most people seem to need. As you say one is easy and emotionally good and the other needs hard work and dispassionate analysis. The interesting thing is that, for most people, they are both true.

    Marina Anderson
    November 9, 2008
    Reply
  8. I guess I can only agree with the general theme of your narrative, in that people are going to be disappointed, but I don’t think that the substance of your argument is correct. In the words of some rapper, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”. The American political system creates the situation with the presidential elections and the 2-person race. Also, we are looking for a hero, it’s in our psyche. So it’s not that “the Obama brand has all the depth and staying power of a catchy pop tune” or that his “campaign also represents the triumph of the cult of personality in American politics” but especially the point that choosing Obama is “faith in a man over faith in ideas”. I think he presented a significant alternative to McCain. He was far more leftie, more “socialist” although that seems to be a swear word in US politics. Whether or not he will be able to solve the financial crisis AND develop a better health care system and all the other social welfare ideas is yet to be seen.

    Reply
  9. Wow. I thought what Obama represents is a new America in the worlds’ eyes, something that is mandatory for the US moving forward as it’s stocks (in world terms) are at an all time low. America needs a rebirth, the people are tarnished by years of outrageous policy they had no control in, nor in restrospect endorse.

    Reply
  10. “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a SUV”…

    I don’t believe that the folk who voted for McSame are bigger fools than the Obuma people, the sad thing is people are going to waste many years waiting for the government to “fix” the american scream.

    Social Insecurity, Medi-Fraud, Corporat Subsidies… Time to make other plans, not waste resources trying to revive a corpse, a ecologicaly unsustainable military industrial matrix.

    Reply
  11. We know Obama is beholden to organised labour. He may be found wanting for a lack of cronies among industrialists even if we were to seek to emulate Robert J Hawk. Will he bring a Keating into cabinet to run foil for him and be the champion of the banksters and their economist lackeys (the Hawk/Blair template)?

    Are the Clinton & Bush era radical policies chasing global asset annexation (financial & resource) without a dime to their names to pay for it really coming to end or will he unleash protectionism and the dogs of war?

    The nominations influence of either Rubin (Geitner or Summers), or Volcker (someone off the Reuters list) will be transparent enough. Will Biden have his influence (invasions of opportunity on thin moral grounds) & keep the military industrialists and oilmen happy or is he to play the traditional (his boss’s) VP as opposed to Cheney’s radicalism.

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  12. All the balderdash and splash of both the Clinton’s and the Bush’s grandstanding and display of world dominant and militarily superior conceit and arrogance has run the gauntlet.

    And now, the Mr. Humble Mr. Obama is left with the after party clean up detail. Pity him, for his task is Herculean. The question is: with the mountain of dirty dishes, pans and party leftovers to be overwhelming even for a messiah?

    And then the focus is on the world economy and Iraq and Afghanistan. But is that the whole of it…no, it is just the first shovel full of detritus. Then comes the failures in energy, water, agriculture and infrastructure. Why does this man think he can muster up on all these issues let alone education, racial equality, and health care?

    Does it then take a lunatic to undue the works of lunatics? One can only wonder. And then comes the American public, always for the loser and the underdog. Long gone is Kate Smiths world and all that we fought those wars for. It is a new world and a new paradigm. I just keep wondering what that is.

    Reply
  13. […] implementation, his interest in and advocation for civic participation is surface at best. As Dan Denning at The Daily Reckoning put it: …the Obama brand has all the depth and staying power of a catchy pop tune. It’s […]

    Reply

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