Obama I, King of the Grup People

Daniel has handed me a standing invitation to first pounce on this Kurt Andersen graf about Obama and then have a field day with it. Who am I to dare to defy him?

For voters younger than he, Obama is the closest they’ve ever had to a political leader of their own generation […]. And for the next-older cohort, at least the self-conscious ones who tend to dominate the cultural definition of any generation, Obama flatters their driving desire to imagine themselves forever young. He’s technically a baby-boomer, but still comes across as a boy wonder, which allows people in their fifties to feel reassured that they’re not yet decrepit. Plus if all the kids love him and we also love him, that means we’re still kinda sorta youthful ourselves, right? It’s related to the generation-gaplessness that modern parents enjoy feeling when they and their children watch Stephen Colbert together, and listen to the same music (Feist!) on their identical iPods.

As has maybe become apparent by now given my posting elsewhere on Obama, I like him somewhat less than, say, Andrew, and somewhat more than, say, Daniel himself. Originally, clobbering the poor candidate as Mr. Emotherapy was as easy as it was depressing. But then Hillary began her long campaign of enhanced interrogation, and Obama didn’t crack. That is, he didn’t take the bait, he didn’t snap, he didn’t stoop, and he basically showed all the dispositional signs, anyway, of a natural born aristocrat. My appreciation for Obama has developed into a version of Camille Paglia’s appreciation of Obama. If only he were right on the issues.

But that’s not the issue here. Here we are concerned with why people who like Obama like Obama, and sure enough, I feel more alienated from these people than ever, at least if Andersen is right. It’s true that anyone who thinks John McCain is a crazy old man, that Hillary Clinton is a killer Kid Sister doll come to life, that Mitt Romney took laughing lessons at some point in his life, or that basically America has no credible leaders will feel their sympathies gravitate naturally toward Obama. Even if he’s an empty or bad leader, at least the guy’s credible. He comports himself in the fashion I’d want my President to comport himself. He radiates a soft glow of contempt at things and persons (i.e. Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics, Hillary Clinton) I’d want to club violently with the contempt stick. He’s not a leftover from a cultural era that stubbornly will not be bygone, and which many of us post-boomers believe should never have been here to begin with.

That said, I feel almost the same way about this cultural era, and that’s what separates me decisively from the Grup Nation. I’m still not convinced that the Obama phenomenon isn’t an attempt by people who want their lives reenchanted to get what they want by trying to make politics feel enchanted again. But because the hole in my heart marked ‘social gospel’ is filled with a very Laschian emphasis on robust citizenship practiced together by ordinary people — with all the cultural baggage that ‘ordinary’ brings — I hold out a modest hope that at least a significant part of the Obama phenomenon involves an attempt by people to reactivate their citizenship for the long term.

Now surely at least some Feist fans want to reactivate their citizenship for the long term, but I wonder. Sometimes I also wonder if I’m the only cultural commentator of my generation who hasn’t watched an episode of the Colbert Report. Motivated by this disquiet, I have launched an ongoing assessment of my whiteness, as measured by Stuff White People Like, and with about 20% of the top 100 Stuff already assessed, the prospects for solidarity with the Grup Nation seem grim. From this perspective, Obama is a 21st Century American Louis-Philippe, bourgeois King of the Grup People, and I am some kind of landless young freedom-loving aristocrat from a Restorationist family with a flat in Paris, a useless title, and a lot of unpopular mores. What I want from Obama is a 21st Century American Disraeli, and I know I’m not going to get it. But what bothers me more is that probably nobody in the grup cohort has any use for that ‘reference’. This is to say nothing of the parents of grups, who are continuing to entrench boomer mores by dressing, talking, texting, and hooking up and breaking up like their kids.

It’s all unhappily similar to what Nietzsche said about having to kill the shadow of the dead God, too — when I think about my kind of cool cultural renaissance, I have to think far into the future, where legions of pop posthumanists await to kill my dream in the cradle.