A thrilling apotheosis of the multi-millennia struggle against douchehounds

Today I give you Richard Cohen’s frustrations with Barack Obama’s Post-Partisan Unity Schtick:

The trouble with this non-doctrine doctrine is that it lacks poetry. It is up to the president as leader to provide that poetry. He has to make us connect his values to our own. Obama could do that in the presidential campaign because he was the thrilling apotheosis of the multi-century struggle against racism. You could not vote for Obama and not have felt that somehow you had fired a shot in the Civil War or ridden a freedom bus into the Jim Crow South. That was a revolution, just as grand as this year’s in Egypt — and it will, for sure, end better.

Yes, that’s right:  voting for Obama was the functional equivalent of serving in the Civil War, being a freedom rider, or risking imprisonment, beatings, and rape for standing up to the Mubarak regime this year.  That’s funny–it didn’t seem all that dangerous or dramatic down at the Lutheran church fellowship hall where I waited in line to cast my ballot back in 2008.  And I’m sure it’s just a complete accident that Cohen dreams that his vote is the equivalent of doing very tough, d00dly things like going to war or confronting violent regimes.

It’s almost too easy  to point out how hopelessly fatuous this is.  What I find more worthy of note is what a striking contrast Cohen’s fantasy offers to the fantasies that many so-called liberal white men harbored about Hillary Clinton in 2007-08.  On the one hand, you had the “thrilling apotheosis of the multi-century struggle against racism,” and on the other hand, Vagina Dentata.  There was no heroic Whig narrative into which to fit Clinton’s bid for the presidency–after all, everyone knows that we don’t need feminism because 1) it’s against God’s plan, and/or 2) everything’s awesome now for women, no thanks to feminism for that progress, because 3) we can “all” agree that feminism is neither an important human rights movement nor a heroic struggle to right centuries- or even millenia-long injustices.

Feminism is just a bunch of mouthy, shrill, self-interested women broads.  No heroes here–you have to look to men’s liberationist movements for the heroes.

0 thoughts on “A thrilling apotheosis of the multi-millennia struggle against douchehounds

  1. Brava, Historiann. That was a revolution, just as grand as this year’s in Egypt — and it will, for sure, end better. Just as grand, measured by what yardstick? Voting for Obama was certainly was safer and blander than ousting Mubarak. It’ll end better–really? How does Cohen know? And measured by what? Was electing Obama better than electing H.R. Clinton, better than electing McCain, better than another four years of G.W. Bush, or just better than a sharp stick in the eye?


  2. While I despair at Cohen’s comparisons, I think he’s hit on at least one thing when we writes “You could not vote for Obama and not have felt that somehow you had fired a shot in the Civil War or ridden a freedom bus into the Jim Crow South” [emphasis mine]. I don’t know about feeling like you were in the Civil War or riding a freedom bus, but Obama sure did sell feelings, and for the most part they were positive ones. So much of Obama’s campaign was based on the poetic rhetoric of “yes we can” that if his presidency really is “lacking poetry” then he may be in more serious trouble in 2012 than I thought. Because I’m not so sure Obama can win if all he’s got going for him is that he’s “better than a sharp stick in the eye”.


  3. @ Vellum: I think that’s the best (and most honest) political slogan I’ve ever heard. We should make mockups and put them in our yards.

    Obama, 2012 – Better than a Sharp Stick in the Eye!


  4. Feminism is just a bunch of mouthy, shrill, self-interested women.

    I am sure you meant to say broads, Historiann, and this would be a good example of the word not being used in a complimentary sense.

    Lead headline on this morning’s WaPo: “Obama risks losing liberals.” Close, but I think I’d edit that to read: “Obama never deserved liberals in the first place, but liberals sure as $hit deserved him.” How’s that for poetry?


  5. Cohen surely was having a boomer senior moment if he thought a vote, a few yard signs, or even hosting one of those Texas caucuses that nullified the popular vote could count against having been born too late to Freedom Ride (or neglected to do so if you were around then). But what a concept for politically reparative cliotourism if extended to the entire historical spectrum. Vote for Hillary and it’ll be (almost) like you got your head cracked open at Michigan and Balbo that steamy August night. Vote for (whoever) and you can tell your grandkids about the time you chopped ‘cane right next to Che in Matanzas in 1962, or washed pots with Uncle Ho in the restaurant in Harlem, or even dumped tea at Boston next to John Hancock way back in ’73. I could almost see us getting a book deal out of this if we write it from the cloud.


  6. I generally disagree with you on most things Obama–and being African American and speaking to my mid-70s father on the phone the night he was elected, I will continue to uphold the idea that his election was monumental in ways we will probably understand when no black person is elected president again for the next 70 years. (Note, this is not an argument against Hillary’s qualifications or her suitability for the position, just my own vantage point. Also, from my vantage point, better than a sharp stick in the eye is still enough for me–not ideal, but enough–in light of the shenanigans going on in Arizona, the lurking birtherism, the hostility towards unions and any form of disagreement in Wisconsin, the attacks on women’s rights that Democrats aren’t doing much against but I shudder to think what might happen under a Republican president, the current small steps being made to undermine DOMA, etc.)


    it really insults those people who are fighting for the right to have a legit election that doesn’t just prop up the strongman who’s been in power for decades to pretend that walking to our polling place and then a few months later witnessing a peaceful and ceremonial transition of power is on the same level. As monumental as it was for me, all I had to do was walk to a Post Office in London, send off my absentee ballot, and then check that my vote had been counted online. Not exactly the same thing as being the sole woman challenging the Saleh regime in Yemen.


  7. thefrogprincess: I’m not knocking Obama here at all. I’m criticizing Cohen and other so-called “liberals” who could see Obama’s candidacy as the fulfillment of a historic struggle but who couldn’t conceptualize of Clinton’s candidacy in similar terms. I certainly don’t blame Obama & his team for trying to capitalize on this at all. Candidates have to use whatever useful narratives they’ve got, and he had a bunch of really good ones!

    I agree with you on the liklihood/timing of another African American POTUS, however. After all, America likes it’s “firsts,” so long as they remain exceptional. John F. Kennedy was our first–and only–Catholic president, and it’s been nearly 50 years. . . And any AA candidates for the presidency in the future will likely be compared mostly to Obama, regardless of party or ideology or personal history.


  8. Yeah, and it’s not just an American thing. Disraeli and Thatcher remain the only Jewish and female British prime ministers and while the former could change if Labour wins an election in the near future, I don’t see the latter changing any time soon.

    And, frankly, Cohen and co.’s eagerness to see their Obama votes as akin to freedom rides is all part of a white liberal guilt about race relations that I find increasingly problematic. As you point out, it blinds people to other inequalities by propping up race–and really just blackness–as the only inequality in this country, but I also think it covers over the serious work still to be done on race. I always want to say, “Great, you voted for Obama, that doesn’t give you a pass on the more structural and difficult questions like access to education, incarceration rates, poverty, and the like.”


  9. Off on a tangent, my mother, a tough old broad, recently guilted my wife into doing jury duty with “people in Egypt are dying in the streets trying to get this, you should not try to duck out.” It worked.


  10. And, frankly, Cohen and co.’s eagerness to see their Obama votes as akin to freedom rides is all part of a white liberal guilt about race relations that I find increasingly problematic.


    And I should add: it’s definitely a white thing to fantasize that Obama’s election is some “apotheosis.” None of the black people I know were anything but realistic about the meaning of the success of one African American man at the top of American electoral politics.

    Western Dave: Fratguy got called for jury duty last summer and was disgusted by the flimsy excuses offered by his fellow citizens who were determined to shirk their duties. Although he’s a busy person with a busy medical practice & not salaried, he answered the voir dire questions honestly & got seated on the jury. Then, he complained every livin’ day he was on the jury!


  11. Well I don’t equate it to being something akin to having been involved personally, but it was still something overall that I was happy to be a part of. I didn’t vote for HC largely because I could predict all the direct attacks on women that would narrate the next four years, and Obama deals with enough veiled racism and supposed bs about his “socalism” when truly he was a moderate that I just can’t deal. But honestly, all the complaints liberals lob against Obama would be equally lobbed against HC. They are very close on the political spectrum, both practical moderates, and I think people fail to recognize that.

    On jury duty- Sounds like my recent experience was a lot like Fratguy’s. I decided to set the bar high by not lying during selection and unfortunately got chosen for being one of the twelve most boring people in the room. It was a terrible experience, the deliberation being the worst and making me lose faith in my fellow citizens. I wonder if all the “good” jurors come up with excuses and get out of it.


  12. Being African-American, I see Obama’s continued abandonment of the supposed ideals he espoused during the election a greater treason against class than race. There are rich AAs who probably love the fact he’s keeping so many people of all ethnicities down, as long as their taxes stay low and their community gates, high….

    Also, history will tell whether the faux-progressivism of the Obama campaign was the greater betrayal of civil rights proponents than anything Reagan did — at least we knew we had an enemy, and we sure as hell didn’t vote him into office. It’s a sad era when we settle for symbols, rather than substance, on the principle that the new boss is 2% less evil than the old one.


  13. It was a terrible experience, the deliberation being the worst and making me lose faith in my fellow citizens.

    I served on jury duty a few years ago, I found it to be an uplifting and inspiring experience. The deliberation gave me renewed faith in my fellow citizens.


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