The Obama Campaign, that strange 4 year marriage of Generation X hipsters, inner city bosses, suburban college educated boomers longing for racial healing, Big Green businessmen and shady Saudis, appears to be finally sinking beneath the waves. It isn’t going out in a blaze of glory, but with mumbles of trending topics.
Obama was always a petty man and his campaign has descended into pointless pettiness, into Team Big Bird, binders full of women and bayonets and horses. Like so much hipster culture, it exists so that the participants can entertain each other with something that no one else thinks is funny or clever. And that elitism is precisely the point. It’s the last resort of losers who hide from their lack of taste behind walls of exclusivity.
Abandoning mass appeal, Obama is getting back to his roots of entertaining upper middle class college kids with his ‘hipness’; both actual college kids and the overgrown middle aged variety that make up the professional class of the mediacracy who treat the rest of the country the way that they treated the natives on their Peace Corps assignments.
The Obama Campaign was never serious, but it once aspired to an Oprah level of seriousness, to the dignity of the self-help sections where trite observations are recited with great solemnity so that they sound like they must mean more than they do.
For the Northeastern New York Times reader, Obama held out the promise of atonement for the country’s grave racial sins. For the San Francisco wind farm executive, he offered the prospect of a presidency that would be one long endless TED talk with plenty of subsidies for the cunning Greenvestor. And the college student would finally have a president who watched the same shows, listened to the same music and got the same jokes making him the perfect Resident Adviser for the country.
Two biographies and four years later those same people have learned that like that party guest who mentions that he’s a nuclear physicist, a poet and an explorer of supernatural phenomena, Obama wasn’t actually interesting, he just seemed interesting in a cursory sort of way. Obama’s biography made him an interesting party guest, but not past a 5 minute chat, and it in no way qualified him to hold the country’ top job during an economic crisis and two wars.
Obama’s seriously intent tone, the one that signals you to pay attention, no longer works on even the faithful. Like Pavlov’s dogs, they have stopped coming once they realized that just because the bell rings doesn’t mean that dinner or a functional economy will be served. The weighty tone that he once used to deploy to great effect, borrowing the tricks of the preachers that he encountered in his huckstering days, has come to seem as empty as Oprah’s smile or Bill Clinton’s sincere head nod, just another of the tricks of hollow public personalities signifying nothing.
For years and years, he has talked and said nothing of any import. All the talk, the endless speeches and addresses, the verbal and facial tics that indicated seriousness of purpose, have never led to one single thing. Not one problem solved, not one crisis resolved and not one plan laid out and completed in four years with something to show for it.
Somewhere along the way, Obama became boring. He became that one man at a party that you don’t want to talk to because he will go on forever and all his chatter leads nowhere, because for all his conversational skills, he is capable of nothing but talk. And after talking to him for ten hours, you don’t know him any better than you did after ten minutes.
Voting for Obama was never the right choice objectively, but it was the right cultural choice, it was the trend, the impulse that everyone seemed to be following, the style that everyone was wearing and the book that everyone was reading. But trends like that don’t last. How many people will have Lady Gaga songs in their players or Fifty Shades of Grey on their bookshelves ten years from now? This too is the fate of the president of the trending topic, the commander-in-chief of the pet rock and the mood ring with his binders full of women and t-shirts with pictures of horses and bayonets on them. A joke that like Snakes on a Plane or All Your Base Are Belong To Us never gets old until 5 minutes later.
When times are bad, people have a well-known escapist streak. During the Great Depression, lavish musicals were popular. After September 11, Zoolander topped the box office. Facing two wars and a failed economy, the American people followed their own escapist streak to a smooth talking trickster with a soothing bag of promises that were too good to be true. Who wanted to listen to McCain, a man who looked like a walking war injury and kept talking about sacrifice, when you could get big bags of free stuff from a man who offered a post-racial society as a free gift with every vote.
Americans escaped to Obama and now they’re escaping from Obama. The vacation was already being cut short in 2012 and now it’s approaching its blackout date. Instead of taking Americans away from everything, Obama took everything away from them, and now they’re gearing up to take it all back and put him on a back shelf next to last summer’s beach reads and last decade’s pop hits.
Obama is over. And confronting his ‘overness’, that deadliest of fates for a hipster, he is crawling back to pander to his original audience, the graphic designers who put together posters of him on their free time, the celebrities who were eager to form his Jack Pack, to be his Joey Bishop or his Marylin Monroe, the musicians singing about him, the netroots bloggers cranking out their sensations of euphoric immediacy at being in his presence and the professional leftists cheering for him to take down the American Empire like Godzilla took down Tokyo.
But all the trending memes with hashtags and Tumblr pages, the calculatingly overexposed Instagram photos and the celebrities scribbling things on their hands and Twitpiccing the results, can’t bring back the thing that’s over. And even if they could, it won’t make a difference to the election. Hipsters like things that are different before they become popular, because it makes them seem like interesting people. Once something is popular then liking it no longer means that you’re interesting, instead it comes with the ego-deflating revelation that you are just like everyone else, except more so.
There’s no point to liking Obama anymore. Not when Obama is everywhere, more overexposed than Instagram, grinning from every corner, from every screen and magazine cover, selling out to get ahead and making the old faithfuls wonder if he ever stood for anything at all. Theirs is the sad burden of knowing that they will never have their own JFK who died, tragically and horrifyingly, before he could dive all the way into Vietnam, before stories of his carousing hit the papers forcing him to go on television and insist that he never had sex with any of those women.
Obama will not be immortalized by a Communist with a rifle. Instead he is doomed to be mortal, his hair turning white and his musical tastes turning worse. Any day now he will admit to a fondness for Kenny G and after that there will be no saving him from the dread ravages of time. And so he is over because the alternative to him being over is the tastemakers having to confront their own overness. Their own mortality.
If Obama were cannier than he seems, then he would embrace his own fakeness, becoming a self-constructed celebrity, glorifying in his own artificiality, until like Lady Gaga or Lana Del Rey and every third hip hop star with a pulse, his very fakeness would serve as proof of his inventiveness and his media savvy. Such an Obama would present a birth certificate showing that he was born in Kenya to challenge our notions of identity, admit to squandering all the country’s money for its own good and keep us entertained with his latest antics. It might not win him the election, but considering the example of Zoolander, it might, because then instead of being over, he would be a new escape all over again.
But Obama is determined to be a hipster to the very end, instead of embracing the shamelessness of his own media manipulations, he veers erratically between an insincere sincerity and the sneer of the spitefully superior. It’s the performance we saw in the third debate, the antics of every college kid you ever argued with, that combination of smugness and insecurity that marks the hipster as an impossible conversationalist.
The only thing sadder than a hipster is a wannabe hipster and that’s what Obama is now, a man in search of a meme, a one-man band in search of an artfully touching documentary about its travails in the wilds of Portland and a flat line in search of its trend.
Obama does not know how to govern. He does not know how to address the economy or war. The one thing he knows how to do is be popular. That is the one and only skill that he has cultivated in his life. And it is a good skill for a politician, but a politician whose only skill is popularity had better avoid taking responsibility for anything that might make him unpopular.
Popularity is a trend, and like every reality show star still pounding away on Twitter five years later, trying to move their latest CD or comedy club appearance, Oprah’s most popular boy toy since Dr. Oz has failed to realize that he is no longer popular, his moment has passed, his relevance is through and no one wants a man whose only skills are on-camera skills to be the one standing between them and economic oblivion.
The country doesn’t hate him, but it is tired of him. It wakes up every morning, remembers the time everyone got drunk and decided to vote for the cool black dude who talked a lot about hope, winces and then forgets about him all over again until it looks at the latest economic news. It’s over him and it wishes that he would show some dignity and walk away from a job that he isn’t qualified for on his own.
Obama has gotten desperate. His fundraising emails walk the thin line between emotional blackmail and hysteria. Increasingly they read like Cousin Larry phoning for bail money from Tijuana. Shrilly needy they demand that we pay attention to him, that we love him, adore him and spend money on him. They are the missives of a man who cannot conceive of a life outside the spotlight, the vapid fear of a celebrity who cannot confront the real world and cannot understand why their public is walking away.
In the last stages of his career, Obama has become Norma Desmond, waving around a social media gun and shouting, “No one leaves a star. That’s what makes one a star.” But the country has left and what they leave behind is a star falling from the sky over Chicago.
Originally published at Sultan Knish.