Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Feedback Effect

Quite a bit of the media attention and public perception of our imminent president seems to not address what he plans to do and the obstacles presented his administration in achieving those plans, but indicate instead the growing sense that Barack Obama may be lost to an image of himself. Not that there isn’t intelligent, constructive discussion going on, among both political center-stagers and the audiences with whom they interact—it’s just that I see his face printed on tee shirts, buttons and boxer shorts, lockdown security for the inauguration tinged with paranoia that we might lose him so near the end if we look away for an instant, and a stream of celebrity into Washington (including Beyonce, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock and The Boss) to herald his even greater celebrity realized on Tuesday; much commentary given to his being a kind of cultural savior, a beacon shining out for some systemic change and the perfect certainty that he’ll accomplish it; a concrete figure easier to recognize and trust than the intricate, often faceless components of which a government consists.

What worries me is that Obama’s capably functioning as president will be overshadowed by the space he occupies in Americans’ minds. We may begin to give ourselves over to the kind of trust and hope he continues to inspire, becoming a little blinder, a little more deferential to his actions. He cultivates this boundless optimism, “Anything is possible,” he said, and while the country could use a good boost of half-full, I wonder how long, how far we’ll run with it.

But perhaps we’ll keep our edge, the kind of can-do drive this election awoke in us after the long, cynical spiral of the Bush presidency. I have some faith in that, I do, but of the massive amounts of information streaming from our media and our culture—a self-powered cycle anyway, one feeding through the other and back—enough seems to place him as a convenient focal point for the sometimes nebulous and alienating elements of government. It’s almost as if he were a spokesman for reversing the upsets our country is experiencing, and not one of many factors involved in the solutions.

However, I also have some, maybe a lot, of faith in Obama’s abilities to accomplish what he can within the power of his office and the will of his constituency. I think in part it speaks to these abilities that his face has been printed on boxer shorts. I’m not worried about him. I’m worried that too much weight has been laid on the boxers, if you get me.

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