People have been stonily silent since the midterm elections. So I will say what everyone is thinking. The President has missed the mark. And here's why he missed it.
In the film Inception, a mind-bending movie about the subconscious, a man says that a simple idea is the most powerful thing in the world. Then they set about implanting an idea in the mind of a powerful man.
Two years ago, something else powerful was implanted in the minds of America, especially Black America.
Symbol (symb’l) n 1. Something that stands for or represents something else, especially an object representing an abstraction. 2. An object or act that represents an impulse or wish in the unconscious mind that has been repressed.
Dig the definition, “representing an abstraction” or “a repressed wish.” So a symbol is a vessel, which is filled with whatever an individual wants.
It is important to remember this definition, as I am about to talk badly about some revered symbols.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a symbol, a law that “freed slaves.” Of course it didn’t. Faith, determination, courage, politics, a war with 620,000 deaths did.
Jackie Robinson’s symbolic integration killed the Negro Leagues, ending the threat that the black teams; some partially owned by blacks would merge with the MLB.
The MLK Holiday became the symbol for the promise of continued equality and progress. It became law in 1983 and then the 1990’s saw the most devastating reversal of fortune in the history of Black America.
And then in the new millennium, we were given the greatest symbol in perhaps a century: the first Black President.
And now after two short years, the President has been hobbled and even labeled a failure by some. His party has lost political control by historic margins and he has been called out by such progressive stalwarts as Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, John Stewart, Bill Maher and George Soros. Even zen master Deepak Chopra has called him out. (I am waiting for Bambi and Papa Smurf to slam him next)
There have been a lot of theories about why this has happened. I of course, have the real answer and it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with symbolism.
To Blacks he was a warrior, the ultimate proof of equality, acceptance and an end to the theories of black inferiority. To whites, he was the essence of their subconscious presumption of black nobility, likened to the imagery of the Magic Negro, the man who carries virtue in his right hand and forgiveness in the other and who will break his back fixing your mess.
Obama was the perfect symbol: the abstraction of hope and the repressed wish of change.
But he did not deliver on either promise to either group by doing what every President before him did, playing the same D.C. game and not giving anyone the only thing that ever matters: to call bullshit on it all.
The President went on to accomplish many things but none of them resonated with young voters and Blacks who felt left out.
So what could he have done? Well, anything that guts the D.C. game would probably not pass in congress but in failure he would have won the hearts of Americans who want to stop spendthrift government and greedy, selfish corporate politics.
How about if you ship a job overseas, you have to create two here or we hit you with a penalty that goes to job creation? What about if a soldier dies in a war, we send his kids to college for free? Or maybe an actual, real discussion about race?
So maybe none of these ideas are good but that’s one of the hundreds of reasons I could never be President. But I do know this, all the people wanted was a sign, a gesture to hold on to.
Ironically, we needed a symbol.