June 20, 2009

Bill Maher Needs to Shut the F@#% Up

Democracies, even ones as homogeneous as the US Government, are like oil tankers: when one speaks of turning them, one is talking in terms of miles, not feet or yards. After years of conservative control (Nixon through Bush II, with a brief respite for the Carter administration - and yes, Bill Clinton counts as a conservative, except for maybe his first two years), to expect the government to immediately cleave to Obama's agenda is completely unrealistic . . . especially when at least half of the Congressional Democrats are more conservative than the middle-of-the-road president.

Bill Maher is hitting the publicity circuit with his complaints about the president's performance 150 days into his first term. Apparently, Maher has already grown impatient with Obama, comparing him to media creation Lindsay Lohan and repeatedly stating that he needs more of a Bush (or should that be Cheney?) fuck-you attitude toward governance. Maher (through his surrogate Obama) has won his election, now he wants his pound of flesh . . . and he's pissed he's not getting it.

Maher's main complaint is that Obama is running a media presidency - essentially all talk and no legislation. On the surface, he does seem to have a point: Obama is clearly as concerned with maintaining a public profile as he is to ramrodding his agenda through Congress. To a true believer in US democracy, a postmodern media presidency is an abberation.

But the government will never be the source of true change. This much is clear to both the left and the right, and faith is hard to come by even for the political/demographic cluster in the middle. The system is geared to inertia - sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

And so, here we have Maher, pissed at Obama, all because of inertia. Maher believes that Bush II is a symbol of aggressive change, and wants Obama to be his photographic negative . . . and yet, in legislative terms, Bush's rough conservative corners will be sanded down by Obama. As surely as Reagan ran up the deficit and Clinton stripped away financial regulation, the middle will be assumed again over the course of the next 4-8 years. By then, Bush will have been for naught. And, under the traditional model, any trending to the left by Obama will be counteracted not too long after that. So the status quo, and those whom it benefits.

What Maher is missing is that the media component of the Obama presidency may be the most important part: he is bypassing the legislature and going directly to the American people. Now, in and if itself, this is not a novel gambit . . . politicians routinely run for office using the media, and most recently, Illinois's pillar of moral respectability Rod Blagojevich turned to the media when he had no other avenues left. But Obama seems to be moving in a different direction: what I took to be a fog of platitudes during the campaign may be his attempt to shape the public consciousness in his own idealistic image. As president, he has maintained this relentless idealistic campaigning while filling in the details with specific policy objectives. Where he parts from tradition is that the idealism is the point, and that policy is secondary.

And, I should add, he is still running as artful a campaign as the one that won him the presidency. The most interesting aspect of his media assualt is the way he assiduously avoids the culture wars: though he clearly delineates a progressive agenda, he approaches it from a strictly logical as opposed to moral or cultural angle. To Obama, morality supersedes all, but it is a morality based in logic, and beyond culture. This move puts him beyond the culture warriors from Sarah Palin on down through Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and their media ilk. If Obama has his way, the more time passes, the less relevant the culture wars become.

And, for his part, Maher is nothing more than a Limbaugh for the left. He is jingoistic, self-promoting, and less concerned with truth than with his place in the media landscape. Maher has a lot of nerve comparing Obama to Lindsay Lohan, since he is much more a slave to the media order than Obama - at least Obama defines his role, while Maher is an opportunist who breaches like a pimple on the face of media culture. Unlike Michael Moore, who is a gadfly with an agenda, Maher is nothing more than a media whore. It is he who is Lohanesque, not Obama.

I may be projecting my ideas onto Obama inappropriately. I gotta say, though, I like this guy. It's not that I agree with him - he's much too centrist for my tastes. His support of gay marriage is far too lukewarm, his continued support of financial bailouts is troubling, his military policy is dangerously flexible, and his health care policy is a joke. Nonetheless, Obama seems to be a small crack in the facade of things the way they are. If I'm wrong, at least it's nice to have a president who's not an idiot.

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