Can We?

It seems probable that every single person in the U.S. with a wine glass and an internet connection has now seen the Obama “Yes We Can” video, which, with the help of a handful of famous faces and a member of the Black Eyed Peas, sets Obama’s New Hampshire “Yes We Can” speech to music. From what I can tell, the general reaction to the video seems to be, roughly, OMG! OMG! Oh Wow! Tears! Crying! So beautiful! More tears!” Yes we can! Well. Maybe.

Now, I’ve obviously got all sorts of disagreements with Obama on policy and ideology, but I’ll also say I find him an incredibly appealing candidate, and I think the original speech upon which this was based is a very good one. This video, however, makes me worry about the potential for an Obama presidency more than anything I’ve seen (with the possible exception of the rumor about John Edwards getting the AG slot).

An editor of a conservative magazine recently said to me (I’m paraphrasing here) that watching Obama is a somewhat strange experience because it’s so unusual to see political candidates actually think before speaking. Now, whether Obama does any more or less thinking than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican, is a moot point. What matters is that that’s how he is perceived. This seems to me to illuminate a key part of his appeal: his ability to project thoughtfulness and intelligence without seeming evasive, overly careful, or crudely tactical. He is the thinking person’s candidate (and exit polls suggest his appeal is very strong amongst the educated class).

But there’s another side to Obama’s appeal, an emotional side that has less to do with intelligence and more to do with teary-eyed inspiration, and that is the side on which this video focuses on almost exclusively. Put in black and white, scored with a little acoustic riffing and soulful, expertly Pro-Tooled background singing, he becomes a vector for treacly indie-yuppie political fantasy. I’m surprised Zach Braff didn’t make an appearance. The whole thing plays like a smug grup love-in. Love me, Park Slope!

Except it’s worse than that, lower; it’s not pandering exclusively to the young, urban liberal crowd, but to a broader, more suburban cohort that draws its cues from them. This is the secular, liberal equivalent of megachurch-friendly Christian pop, sugar-coated and sanitized, as bland as a t-shirt from the Gap. It’s pseudo-inspiration, processed and prepackaged into a generically trendy, banal mush that robs its central figure of any of the unique qualities that make him a compelling candidate to begin with. It has all the personality and life of a character from Laguna Beach.

But then, maybe this all I should expect from one of the musical talents behind “My Humps.”