A reader writes:
You wrote, “If we cannot stop this, what else can we not stop?” Exactly my own response these last few days. Honestly, I have not reacted to anything with this much impotent despair since 9/11. Not even Abu Ghraib and our collective, in effect, non-reaction to it made me feel more negative about the likely course of our society in the remaining decades of my lifetime.
I don’t participate in the apotheosis some baby boomers indulge of the so-called Greatest Generation. But the thought keeps coming to mind that if today’s American society were faced with situations as complex and terrible as the first half of the 20th century, we’d probably be living with a Nazi Europe and the aftermath of having preemptively nuked the Soviet Union.
Collectively we have lost any ability to make a hard decision, to accept that every action has consequences (as does every refused call to action) and to actually sacrifice, individually and collectively, to keep a terrible situation from becoming more terrible. If we can’t drill anywhere on the planet in pursuit of unlimited oil without destroying entire regional ecologies…well, then hey I guess we’re just screwed. If we can’t just invade the next country on our shit list and stop global Islamic terrorism…well then WTF are we supposed to do? If it turns out that the “wealth” we thought our households possessed was just a temporary accounting fiction…well that doesn’t mean we should have to quit spending money like it’s 2004.
The coup de grace for me personally? That would have to be this. If Barack Obama can not directly and cleanly end torture and rendition and the indefinite detention of the thousands of randomly rounded up non-terrorist, non-combatants abused by the administration he was elected to replace…then there is truly nothing to be done about anything.
What bothers me most about Obama is exactly the mood that you ended up speaking from in this post - which is the effect I think this has on the whole debate.
When the Bush Administration took some positions, which were consistent with either GOP "usual ground" or with their own peculiar enthusiasms, you could assume that there might be alternatives, or at least proposed alternatives, the other side's stuff. But the effect of Obama - the Democratic President and change-candidate - now "realistically" taking the same focuses, is that it now seems as if there must actually be no sound alternatives to these focuses that could even be proposed ... even at the very moments when it's clearest that we need another course, or when we might jump at any one that was suggested! The present unpleasantnesses, or gigantic horrors, must be in truth inevitable. What seemed radically oblivious Cheney-focus when the Bush Administration was talking is now the real world, which must be looked at straight on in calm adult Obama fashion.
In a way, he can be the great ratifier of the Cheney background drone: "we might like to think the world was a certain way, we might prefer that it was, but we have to be grown-ups and keep our feet on the ground and look at things dead on and see things as they are"... which isn't objectivity but is the throwing of a blanket marked Objectivity (and Adult Responsibility) over whatever positions the contentless drone happens to be about.
I know you like his centrist conservative mood, Andrew, but I remember Candidate Obama's clarion voice. We complain a lot about politicians being in love with their own voices, but couldn't Obama have been in truth a little more inspired by his own? There seems to be no "we need to go somewhere where we aren't now" in him, if he does not perceive that we're in great part already there, or if the destination he's proposing isn't already prominent on the gameboard and of demonstrated and recognized status. If we do need to do that, or if "the facts are radical" ... where is he? Answer: Reassuring us that he's dealing with the world as it is.
(Photo: A BP cleanup crew removes oil from a beach on May 23, 2010 at Port Fourchon, Louisiana. By John Moore/Getty Images. Many more in the Big Picture's latest series, "Oil reaches Louisiana shores.")