Yes We Can?
My grandmother sent me an email last week with a hip, new video about electing Barack Obama. If you can’t tell, I use “hip” ironically. It’s not a huge surprise that my grandmother, an elderly African American swept away by Obama fever four years ago, would still want to help engage the youth. I’m sure this email, with “Fw: Fwd: Fw: Fwd: FW:” proceeding the subject title, is an attempt to cut through the cynicism that seems to enshroud my generation’s political efficacy.
Maybe that cynicism is the reason this video feels forced and embarrassingly generic. Also, is it just me or does that guy accidentally sniff that girl’s butt at 0:54?
Watching “Take Us Forward” makes me feel the same way watching Austin Powers 2 made me feel–uncomfortable. I’m simultaneously struck by mild humiliation and a profound sadness with roots in a more genuine video that came out in the 2008 Democratic primary.
I would be lying if I said this video didn’t win me over. These four minutes turned me from a Hillary supporter to an Obama voter during my junior year of college. I told folks that I changed because of the policy differences, but looking back, I really flipped because Barack Obama was bold enough to hope to tackle our problems, eloquent enough to express the boundlessness of American potential without sounding jingoistic, and fortunate enough to have Will.I.Am put his thoughts to lyrical verse.
I was transformed by those three simple words.
Watching the video now, Mr. Obama and Kate Walsh cut through my political doubt in seconds. But below that is a painful dissonance. A voice in the back of my mind whispers, you are not the man we thought you were.
How did this youthful candidate become synonymous with raining death from above with UAV drone strikes? Are there clues in this video that Obama administration transparency would be Bush-like in its execution?
Is this what happens when the idealist comes to power?
Was it a constant chorus of “no” from the political opposition that ended “yes we can?”
Was the job so complicated, so full of secrets the public doesn’t know, that he couldn’t dare maintain his hopeful agenda?
Was it the dream of a second term that tempered the fire he stirred?
Even my questions sound like apologies on his behalf. Maybe Barack Obama underestimated how much ugly there is between the spaces of misunderstanding that define our political reality.
Don’t mistake my meaning. I love Barack Obama in spite of his flaws and missteps. He has, arguably, the most difficult and demanding job in the entire world, made more complicated by hyper-partisan gridlock and the racist overtures of a country coming to terms with its first black president. I weep for what the man could have accomplished if the economy hadn’t tanked right before he took office.
But that dissonance I feel comes from the loss of hope. For a few months Barack Obama made us believers. His audacity and, dare I say naivete, made us all innocent again.
And “Yes We Can” reminds us, with heavy hearts, that the last four years have been the loss of that innocence.
I believe, somewhere under the mountain of cash and talking points, most candidates run for office because they want to do good. Each of them, at some time, feels what Barack Obama made many of us feel during his first run for the presidency.
But I suspect, somewhere along the road to the presidency, too many secrets are created to keep that hope alive. As more and more of a candidate’s time is given to raising money and fighting the PR war it seems like there’s little opportunity to fulfill the dreams of those early days.
It’s oddly poetic that Will.I.Am’s inspiring refrain is replaced with the painfully forced “Take Us Forward”
Guess the dream was deferred after all.
The uncomfortable truth about growing up is that we often compromise our values to get shit done. Barack Obama has become the avatar for a generation of kids who grew up between 2009 and now. And maybe my cynicism is showing, but I’ll be voting for the president less because I dare to hope we can be the kind of country we deserve, and more because it’s the pragmatic choice.
Grumble grumble. Adulthood sucks.