Not that I have anything to apologize for. It’s just that here in America, we seem to be very good at shaming ourselves for liking what we like. Take reality TV, for example. I hate it as much as the next misanthrope, but if people want to waste away their lives gunning for a spot on a program that will, at best, turn them into a D-list celebrity, that’s their right, isn’t it? There’s no need to wish death upon the hopefuls, as tempting as it may be. Take another example: Barack Obama. On one hand, he’s the charming, inspirational leader who reformed healthcare, ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and got us out of Iraq. On the other hand, he’s the tyrant who authorized indefinite detention of American citizens and okays drone strikes that injure and kill foreign civilians. In order to present a coherent message for the upcoming election, progressives must either reconcile those positions or find another candidate.
I’ll tell you what I think is driving Barack Obama: fear. Just as he compromised away the juiciest parts of the healthcare and financial reform bills in the name of bipartisanship, now he’s pursuing more aggressive policies in the name of national security than even his predecessor did. Does this make him a war criminal? Hardly. George Bush started wars because he believed it was his divine right. Barack Obama prolongs the war in Afghanistan because he doesn’t know any better. It may be true, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, that Ron Paul would follow a more progressive agenda as President, but I think Greenwald and I both know progressivism isn’t what this is about. It’s trust. God help me, but I still believe in Barack Obama.
It isn’t that hard, when you look at the progress we’ve made. In the early years, it was almost a cliché to say that you were “disappointed” in his performance. Now, we seem to have more or less accepted that he isn’t and never will be the firebrand Messiah that his most ardent supporters originally took him for. Once you get past that, it’s quite easy to admire him. He still knows how to deliver a rousing speech, and he doesn’t seem nearly as flustered by the Republicans’ obstructionism as he used to be. With that in mind, I make a prediction: Barack Obama is going to crush Mitt Romney this November. Nobody believes in Mitt Romney; his sole driving force is that he’s the most “electable” Republican. As contrary as it sounds, electability doesn’t win elections. If it did, we wouldn’t have a black president. The situation is not too dissimilar to the 2004 election. In that one, Democrats, floundering for someone who could unseat Dubya, nominated a guy who, while probably more honest and well-meaning than Mitt Romney, just didn’t inspire people the way his opponent did. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the Republicans find themselves in the same position that Democrats did. Watching the Republican presidential candidates bicker and snipe at each other is like watching novice boxers fight for the chance to step into the ring with Mike Tyson. Whoever wins is in for a pounding. Negativity just can’t compete with vision. Whatever you think of Barack Obama, you must admit he has that.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s armchair criticism. That’s why I have no patience for people who insist on picking apart Barack Obama’s most insignificant mistakes. Shortly after last year’s uprising in Egypt, there were those who criticized him for not taking a strong enough stance in favor of it. He publicly supported the people of Egypt and privately urged Hosni Mubarak to step down. What else was he supposed to do, invade? It is not his job to do everything we tell him to do; it is his job to lead. The people who think he should have been more proactive regarding Egypt are the political equivalent of the white nerds on the Internet who throw a hissy fit every time the latest comic book adaptation doesn’t perfectly match their conception of the character. If they really can’t handle the slightest deviation from the movies in their heads, why don’t they make the fucking movies themselves? As Steve Jobs once said, it’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want.
That may be true, but more and more, I find myself not getting what I want. I’m growing very tired of people’s misconception that they can get everything they want online. Newspapers began to cut back some years ago, and these days, independent video, music, and bookstores are all either dying or dead. For a while, it seemed like progress—I stopped going to my local video store because I could get everything I want on Netflix. Then Netflix changed its prices and tried to phase out its DVD plan, and I was forced to change my plan for one that offered streaming only. When I drove by the old video store, I saw that it had gone out of business. If all you care about is something that’s cheap and easy, I can see why you might once have rented movies from Blockbuster and these days depend on iTunes and Netflix, but if you, like me, are a pretentious asshole who enjoys avant-garde Swedish films that are shot entirely through a fish-eye lens and in which the characters speak in iambic pentameter for no particular reason, you’re fucked. If I want to see something, I have to hope it’s in Netflix’s limited and ever-changing selection of titles available for streaming, pray my public library has it, or buy it. There are no other options (I refuse to pirate.)
As you can imagine, this makes me fear for the future of art that is truly challenging and stimulating. I understand fully the need many people have to kick back after a long, hard day with something mindless, but even then, I have standards. Two-and-a-Half Men? How about 30 Rock? The Fast and the Furious? How about Die Hard? Yes, I suppose it is more of a commitment to be discerning in one’s tastes, but it’s my time and money, and since I have only one life to live, I damn well will be picky about how I spend them. Why do people hate critics so much? Half the people I know seem to think we’re a bunch of snobs whose only pleasure in life is to trash everything. That’s only true of the shitty critics. The good ones are like Anton Ego in Ratatouille, who loves food so much that he has to hold it to a high standard. The result is a man who enjoys eating more than any casual diner, and a movie that should be seen by anyone who has ever loved anything enough to devote their entire life to doing it.
I have a musician friend who is basically a one-man support group. Since we live on opposite sides of the country, we communicate largely through social media. The point is that no matter what I say to him on Facebook, he “likes” it. I don’t usually approve of such relentless positivity, but I’ll take that over the dozens, even hundreds of people who have approached me over the years because they “just want to see how [I’m] doing.” I’m fine. Really. If I seem bullheaded, it’s only because I’m tired of people telling me what they think I should do next. I’ll make the decisions, I’ll deal with the aftermath. Deal? Let’s face it: 90% of the people who say they’re concerned just want to soothe their own neuroses. If you think you’re in the ten percent, you aren’t. Or rather, you might be, but I’ll be the judge of that. And maybe I’ll err in my judgment but even if I make a mistake, I’m not sorry.