I’ve been thinking about what the new Obama Administration might be like for some time now, indeed, since well before the election and I thought I’d drop a few thoughts on the subject here. In doing so I thought I might use the symbolic vocabulary that Americans are most familiar with: movies.
It’s actually easier to say what an Obama Administration won’t be like. For example, it won’t be The Wiz:
—a fantasy with an all-white cast remade with an all-black cast. I believe that Barack Obama really is post-racial in that sense.
It’s not going to be a re-run of Camelot. Despite the large youth vote for Obama I haven’t seen much in his campaign to suggest that we’re seeing a generational shift on the order of the Kennedy Administration.
It’s also not going to be Reds
—brave Bolsheviks bringing down a corrupt Tsarist system, cheered on by a dashing journalist who, remarkably, occupies center stage. I have a funny feeling that’s a common fantasy among professional journalists and it’s one I believe is soon to be dashed.
It won’t be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
or, at least, it won’t be the picture as most people think of it. I suspect that, if you asked most people what Mr. Smith was about, those who were familiar with the picture at all would say it’s how one person can matter. An idealistic young man goes to Washington and cleans it up.
But that’s not what Mr. Smith is about at all. Go back and watch it again. Jeff Smith doesn’t change anything. In the picture Washington very nearly destroys him.
The message of Mr. Smith is that Washington needs changing. For every Jeff Smith there are one, five, maybe ninety-nine Joseph Paines (the Claude Raines senator part). Indeed, the picture may be about Every Senator: they come in as Jeff Smith and go out as Joseph Paine.
In fact, that’s one of my concerns about a Barack Obama Administration, i.e. that it will be like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but as the picture really is rather than as people imagine it to be.
I don’t believe it will be All the King’s Men
—the rise and fall of a populist demagogue. For one thing I don’t think Barack Obama is that vivid. For another I don’t think you can simultaneously be an elitist and a populist demagogue.
I hope it won’t be Hamlet, with President Obama in the role of the Melancholy Dane, unable to decide to act. Time will tell. Vice President Elect Biden has already warned us that the challenges will probably come sooner rather than later.
I don’t think it’s going to be Babes in Arms, you know, the picture where the kids decide to stage a show to save the old playhouse.
Hey! Let’s put on a show!
I suspect it’s going to be a lot more like that scene from the end of Casablanca:
Captain Renault: Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.
Judging by the recent announcement that Rahm Emmanuel has been tapped as chief of staff, the members of the transition team, and the names being floated for cabinet officers, that’s certainly how things look.
The original movie tagline certainly is appropriate:
Too Handsome. Too Young. Too Liberal. Doesn’t have a chance. He’s PERFECT!
May be. So far the difference is that it looks like it’s us rather than the candidate left wondering what do we do now?