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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13 Comments on "First Black President of America Became a Feel-Good Brand"

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watcher7
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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… Read more »
Booker T
Guest

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

Get over it.

Douglas Harley
Guest
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… Read more »
Unpopular Truth
Guest

Someone’s watched Fight Club one too many times..

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

George Saad
Guest

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

Angela
Guest

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.

Marina Anderson
Guest

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.

Chris
Guest
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… Read more »
Chamovsky
Guest

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.

ralph hill
Guest

“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.

Ross
Guest
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… Read more »
Spartacuss
Guest
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.… Read more »
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[…] 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 […]

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