THE PLANK OCTOBER 29, 2008
As is their nature, with victory in sight, Democrats have lapsed into total Eeyore mode. You can see it on TNR's blogs, as well as just about everyone else's--the gloomy fixation with polls (Michael Crowley, by the way, has the original must-read on the subject), the tortured debates over Obama's inevitability, the sleepless anticipation of an October surprise.
But let's get real here, folks: Despite all the hand-wringing--and what I anticipate will be a closing spate of improved poll numbers for McCain--Obama is likely to come out the winner. My guess is that he'll win by a smaller margin than anticipated, but that the results will be decisive. (Of course, I write this with the trembling hands of a 2000-scarred, "don't step on a crack" Democrat.) All this nervous energy will transform into euphoria of a scale no one's ever seen before--not just because of the historic nature of Obama's win and the fact that most Dems actually feel fired up about Obama (as opposed to past uninspiring contenders such as Kerry, Gore, and Dukakis), but because Democrats haven't fully allowed themselves to wrap their heads around the idea of an Obama victory.
The only Democrat who likely won't be doing the chicken dance in the end zone (and the only one who's probably not wringing his hands and writhing on the floor at this point) is Barack Obama. Obama's vaunted cool, however, may lead to an interesting post-election phase for his more temperamental supporters: namely, disappointment. Already there are little flickers: In an intriguing campaign trail confession, LA Times political reporter Peter Nichols paints the candidate he's followed over the past 18 months as relentlessly on message, stubbornly unknowable, and even a bit of a bore. Far from being the Messiah/celebrity that McCain warned us about, Obama is likely to coolly, if graciously, accept our love and then go into his new house and shut the door.
Now this is exactly why I like Obama. Long ago, after reading Dreams, I decided that he didn't want to me be my friend or feel my pain or go out for a beer with me. (If ever there was an example of bowling alone, Obama is it.) But there's bound to be an interesting reckoning between Obama and our celebrity culture once he gets elected. Obama will be facing incredibly high expectations not just to instantly fix what is ailing the country, from the economy to the war in Iraq, but to fulfill the delayed emotional expectations of supporters and press waiting anxiously for the more emotive and personable President Obama--as opposed to the arms-length, cautious, and even, in some cases, boring Candidate Obama--to reveal himself. But part of the reason that Candidate Obama came off as authentic and consistent is that Obama really is that guy, an intensely private, slightly somber individual who can craft a moving speech but is unlikely to start dishing out the type of intimate emotional gestures and personal tidbits that we're conditioned to expect of our public figures. In short, he's like someone with a 19th century sense of privacy and distaste for emotional excess in a relentlessly public, drama-addicted 21st century world. For an amusing preview of this coming collision, just check out The Daily Beast wherein Tina Brown struggles mightily to turn Obama's sex appeal into the new new thing, even as she admits that he's "too contained to have the kind of sex appeal we are used to in public men."
I guess what I'm getting at is that in these last days before the election, we might all take a page from "No Drama" Obama. A little less anxiety. A little less euphoria. And a little less disappointment when it's time to turn to the dismal state of the country and roll up our sleeves.