The Next American Hippies

I think it is very likely that Barack Obama will be our next president, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I am squarely in the demographic that has connected with the candidate viscerally, and I do have an instinctive sense that it would be nice to have a fellow ethnic in the White House. It’s tough to explain, but having a president who reads and enjoys Philip Roth is, in my view, a pretty inspiring thing. I’m imaging a younger Obama reading Goodbye, Columbus and furrowing his brow or sighing deeply. My gut instinct about him is that he will bring back a patriotism of the left, one centered on America’s role as a country that pushes cultural boundaries, that pioneers forms of constructive dissent. And that’s not a bad thing.

But I also think that many people will be disillusioned by President Obama, particularly if we really are at the beginning of a lasting food-fuel-credit crunch. The left is positively gleeful about the dire straits of the Republican party. My own sense is that the right is very fortunate: we have an opportunity, finally, for a real re-think. The left, in contrast, is creative mainly at the margins. They’ve won the political argument. They haven’t won the substantive argument.

But anyway, the nice thing about the coming disillusionment is that we’ll likely see more dropping out and tuning out, which is to say more nonconformism. The Bush years were an antidote for the political apathy (orthogonality?) true nonconformism requires. During the Obama years, if they do indeed materialize, the opposite will be true. A soothing, dashing public figure will put a lot of us to sleep. A lot of zeal will burn out. And then actually thinking will begin, which will be nice.