Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Republican (and even then) it’s hard not to get excited about Obama’s inauguration. The New York Times Matt Bai warns us though that this kind of optimism isn’t anything new.
From the piece:
Weeks before the election of 1960, Norman Mailer, already an accomplished novelist, sat down to write his first major work of political journalism, an essay for Esquire in which he argued that only John F. Kennedy could save America. In an unruly, haunting and somewhat self-indulgent piece running nearly 14,000 words, Mailer submitted that a mechanized America, with its bland and automated politics, was on the verge of stamping out individuality and randomness and artistic spirit; the only kind of leader who could rescue it, who could sweep in an era of what Mailer called “existential” politics, was a “hipster” hero — someone who welcomed risk and adventure, someone who sought out new experience, both for himself and for the country. In Kennedy, Mailer saw a man of “not quite describable intensity, a suggestion of dry pent heat perhaps,” with “the eyes of a mountaineer” and a penchant for risking his life.
Bai goes on to write that Mailer would eventually grow to be disappointed by Kennedy. JFK, it turns out, wasn’t the ‘hipster’ president that Mailer wanted him to be.
Fatigue over the Bush administration, excitement over a transformational figure, anxiety over a very real financial crisis and the maturation of the internet as a news-gathering and political tool means that this Presidential transition has been the most one of the most scrutinized ever.
Bai, a political writer for the New York Times and the author of the very excellent The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, puts Obama’s transition into historical context and tries to explain why this time things are a bit different.
For extra credit, Mailer’s “self-indulgent” piece, “Superman comes to the supermarket” is reproduced here. While Esquire has been rapturuous in recent months about Obama, one of the best pieces on the Saviour-Elect is by Charles Pierce and isn’t nearly as cheerleady in tone. It’s here and was published back in June 2008, when the outcome of the election was far from certain. Both are worth reading.