Even though it hasn’t even been a month into the Obama presidency I am already tired of Obamania. Let’s be clear I am not tired of President Obama, but I am getting extremely tired of everyone invoking his name and attaching it to any pet cause they happen to favor. It’s as though by doing so they add instant legitimacy to their cause. I am reminded of how modern Christians have for decades done the same with the name of Jesus or God; attaching Him to all types of doctrines and circumstances He may or may not favor.
As an active member of my community I have been to neighborhood meetings, local and state political gatherings and the theme has been the same. I refer to it as the “Obama effect”. Due to the historic nature and the grass roots precedence set by the Obama campaign and his election many believe that this “effect” will automatically translate into an outpouring of community involvement and activism. I even heard one gentlemen refer to time as BB (before Barack) and AB (after Barack). Ok folks let’s get a grip. We have not passed into some magical kingdom where CEO’s and bankers are no longer driven by greed, where parents are suddenly willing to be responsible for their children, and every citizen is now a active educated member of our democracy.
First of all, no one knows what the effects of the election of President Obama will have in the future body politic. No one knows if the grass roots community will continue to turn out for local and statewide elections. No one knows if this was an isolated alignment in history of the right man being in the right place at the right time. While I think it is important to try and use the President’s popularity and the grass roots mechanism to advance a progressive agenda. I, like many others hope that the recent awakening from the state of lethargy of many who had never been involved or had given up on the process will be a continuing phenomenon. The truth is none of us really knows if they will. Just because folks showed up for Barack Obama doesn’t mean they will show up for Bob Smith.
Here are my two main problems with the current strategy of some to cloak all issues in Obamania. The first is when you rely too heavily on the popularity of anyone or anything you actually diminish its popularity. What happens is that people get tired of the constant bombardment. Think of all the people and products that have over-saturated our consciousness and their eventual fate. Many people mistakenly believe that the success of the Obama campaign can be replicated in other areas that may not have direct connections or applications. We have a tendency in this country to think that success in one area or of one individual is directly transferable to all areas and individuals. A simple search of our movies, television shows, and music will bear out our desire as a culture to clone success and its elusiveness.
The second problem I have is that when you rely on the “cult of personality” your programs or policies rise and fall with the popularity of that personality. As we ride the wave of Obama popularity it is easy to believe that he will always be this popular. He won’t be! What many failed to understand is that it wasn’t just that Barack Obama was popular that made his improbable election possible. The key was that he offered ideas and addressed issues that resonated with the people. If your policy or issue is worthwhile it should be able to stand on its own merits. The methodology and tactics may be replicable, but you can have the best organization but if the issues or policies are crappy you won’t be successful. The issues and policies must drive the agenda and in some cases today this is not always the case. A policy or issue must rise or fall based on its value not its association to a popular personality. If a policy or issue is good it doesn’t need the hype and if it isn’t then the hype won’t make it so. Associating bad policy to Obama will not only tarnish President Obama but also those affected by those policies.
It would be easy and attractive for progressives on the local and state levels to believe that invoking the Obama campaign will instantly translate into support, but the real lessons of the Obama campaign is that hard work married to the right policies will garner public support. If you craft the right policies or come down on the right side of the issues I think the public will respond based on the issues and not the hype. The worst thing we can do is to use this time of opportunity to push through the wrong policies and issues and once again alienate or discourage these newly invigorated people. These dispirited individuals could present long-term consequences and again be lost for generations.
So in moving forward may I suggest that we imitate the hard work of organizing and mobilizing people based on the Obama model, but that we do not use the Obama campaign as some sort of holy talisman used to legitimize bad policy.
If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing. – Saint Augustine