Saturday, January 02, 2010

What Obama can learn from Buffy

- for The Hill on 1/2/10

There is no way that the movie Nine with Daniel Day-Lewis and an assortment of the Beautiful People can be considered homage to the Italian master’s gritty, troubled and authentic masterpiece, 8 ½. It is homage to ourselves and the way we were – some of us – when we were young.

There has been a lot of that going around this past year; homage to ourselves via the people we identified with if you happen to be a certain age. Even Obama – the “new Kennedy” for those who cannot get past the old Kennedy (or the last century or the last millennium) – has fallen victim. Obama is victim to nostalgia. He is given the task of filling the hopes of a generation that came of age almost before he started grade school. And one that is rapidly sailing into the sunset. In that regard he is like George W. Bush, who was also expected to fulfill the hopes of a previous generation.

Nostalgia is the curse of the political classes; like Elvis, they refuse to leave the building when their work is done. It causes civil war (Spain in the 1930s) and world war (Germany with the Kaiser). It brings false hope and projects illusion: Obama was neither world master nor messiah as hordes throughout India, Indonesia and practically everyone abroad was saying about him two years ago. And he is not as bad as Sarko and China are saying now. If he has learned one thing this past year in Beijing and Copenhagen it should be that he is an American first, last and always. Same as Brett Favre. Same as Oprah. That is the package. Nothing more, nothing less. And in the end it makes no difference what they think of him or us in France or China.

If Obama is to survive and prosper in the coming three years he has to make the rising generations his own. The oldest story, Sir James G. Frazer and the anthropologists tell us, is that the new leader/hero must cut down the sacred tree of the old people, not fulfill their wishes. Darla must die for Buffy to become The Slayer. Victoria, the red queen, must get her head torn off before Bella can become the white queen. George Washington must cut down the tree of his ancestors before the revolution can occur. Obama’s first hagiographers, publicists and hacks, comparing him to Kennedy, Roosevelt and Lincoln, had it exactly backwards.

Every generation’s hero must make the world his or her own; it will not be given; it must be taken. Obama is no exception.

Neither Clinton nor Reagan made much traction in their first year, but they caught on. From what I could see from the dozens of young people who visited my house over the Christmas vacation, the rising generation still looks up to him and wishes him well. Obama still has time, but time is running out.