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March 05, 2008



And is hope really more vapid that fear? Should we complain about energetic buy-in as opposed to uncomprehending cynicism? I think I understand Nathan's unease at the inchoate enthusiasms inspired by a big-tent "hope" campaign, as a demagogue can mold them as s/he sees fit without needing to argue a lot. If nothing concrete lifted support, then there's no concrete prerequisites to its sustenance. Mayer's song, moreover, reminds me very much of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train," a song that disgusted me ever since I first became aware of it in 6th grade. "Catch a ride on the peace train" was the signature refrain, and even then it seemed obvious that peace was not so easy or passive, and that a more apt metaphor would have us all pushing a stone up a hill. The Mayer formulation is similarly passive, and waits for a conductor who really drives that train, though not on rails set by the passengers. I don't think it's an accident that Cat Stevens later became Yusuf Islam, and acquiesced to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

All that said, I don't see in Obama a demagogue looking for a crowd, or a small man looking for a balcony. He seems rather more ordinary than all that, and I ascribe his popularity at least significantly to his not-Bushness, the degree to which he presents as Bush's opposite. Probably in some other election cycle Obama would seem a little boring, past the nice speeches, but now it's part of his appeal.

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