A Person, Not An Issue?

George Packer notices some Obama supporters are feeling down:

The most disappointed people I meet are under thirty, the generation that made the Obama campaign a movement in its early primary months. They spent their entire adult lives under the worst President of our lifetime, they loved Obama because he was new and inspiring, and they felt that replacing the former with the latter would be a national deliverance. They weren’t wrong about that, but the ebbing of grassroots energy once the Obama campaign turned to governing suggests that some of his most enthusiastic backers saw the election as an end in itself. The Obama movement was unlike other social movements because it began and ended with a person, not an issue. And it was unlike ordinary political coalitions because it didn’t have the organizational muscle of voting blocs. The difficulty in sustaining its intensity through the inevitable ups and downs of governing shows the vulnerability in this model of twenty-first-century, Internet-based politics.

Yes and no. The decision for change - deep, real change - is always going to be a different thing than implementing change in a deeply sclerotic system at a moment of simultaneous and paralyzing global crises. The former is inevitably more energizing than the latter. I don't think most under-30s saw the election as an end in itself (although it was more cathartic than most). I do think they are depressed and frustrated at how maddeningly difficult real change is.

But to my mind, the difficulty of the change is not a reason to abandon it.

In some ways, it's a sign that the proposed changes are real. If they weren't real, there would not be such resistance. For me, the critical areas for change were foreign policy, climate change, fiscal responsibility and torture. (Health insurance reform was not one of my top reasons for backing Obama.) In all of these areas, I can see a genuine effort at real change. And I think most Obama supporters see it too. The way Obama has handled Iran and Afghanistan could not be more different than the bravado and bullshit of his predecessor (especially before 2006). The Rove-Cheney mantra that "deficits don't matter" has been finally retired, even by the Republicans. The US government is no longer denying the reality of human-made climate change and, while still a laggard, is no longer a huge obstacle to solving the problem. The United States no longer tortures prisoners and is slowly dismantling the regime that allowed such things at the behest of one unaccountable, all-powerful executive branch. The one-size-fits-all rubric of freedom-or-tyranny is no longer the guiding principle of foreign policy. And next year - in the real test - we will see if Obama is serious about long term fiscal reform.

This is an ocean liner that was boarded by a bunch of insurgents in a dinghy. You can't captain the liner the way you did the dinghy. But if you wonder if the liner has changed direction, look at the apoplexy of the old regime. They're not fools. And they know they're losing.