January 3 2014
If you liked your holidays, one reason may have been that President Obama was on the golf course and not behind the teleprompter.
Like Pat Sajak—who famously tweeted that he never thought he’d find somebody else’s vacation so relaxing—I have loved every minute of President Obama’s Hawaiian idyll. In fact, if pictures of our glum president are any indicator, I enjoyed his holiday more than he did.
For a mere $3.2 million in Air Force One flying time, a grateful nation purchased for itself a much-needed respite from campaign-style rhetoric, accusations against the minority party, bogus promises, and diktats. It was a bargain, but we can’t expect this faux Eisenhower era sense of peace and good will to last for many more days.
After all, he's coming baaack. When he does, we can count on one thing: the president will continue to make good on the one promise that he has never forgotten--the promise of endless turmoil. Of course, the promise wasn’t stated quite this boldly, and it was the first lady Michelle Obama, not the president, who gave the most perfect formulation of this promise, when she famously said this:
“Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”
In other words, the citizens must become mobilized to promote the president’s promised transformation of the United States. Never mind that our divisions have been accentuated and exploited, or that we are now a far more cynical nation than we were just five years ago, many of us, people who are by no means uninformed about American history and traditions, yearn to return to our lives as usual. “Lives as usual”—how sweet the sound; it almost could be the credo for an earlier—say, circa 2008--America. What Mrs. Obama was advocating was a hyper-politicized populace, ever pushing for an agenda. She got it—or, at least, a larger portion of us than ever before eschew normal lives to believe that in politics they find the meaning of their own lives.
This strenuous path, however, Comrades, has not traditionally been the American way. The United States, in its most vibrant epochs, was a nation in which the citizenry engaged in rip-roaring political debates, cast their votes and then went back to their ploughs, shops, hearths or what have you. The ideal of perpetual, intense exertion in the political arena that takes citizens beyond their comfort zones was not the norm. The normal was the norm. In other words, lives as usual were usual. Some of us can remember when it was considered rude to have a knock-down political battle over a holiday dinner. But an Obama ally actually encouraged us to politicize, of all things, our family gatherings.
I refer of course to Pajama Boy, the androgynous poster boy created by Organizing for America, which grew out of the Obama campaign, who was supposed to use the holidays to harangue his family about ObamaCare. We hooted down Pajama Boy—a good sign that the Obama vision of life as an endless campaign has not yet taken us over completely. But the idea was still there: we no longer have lives as usual. Next time, alas, Organizing for America may find someone less personally absurd to use in an advertisement.
There are several ironies in our predicament. One is that, even though we live in a hyper-politicized environment, we feel more helpless than ever before to control our government. We learn that government agencies are putting on lavish events at our expense, but we don’t really know how to stop this. We learn that the IRS has been targeting conservative organizations to prevent them from obtaining tax exempt status. So far, we the people haven’t found a way to punish the culpable and ensure that this never happens again. We are more engaged in public debate than ever--and more powerless, too.
The other irony is that, if we want to return the republic to its normal course, wherein private lives are not subservient to the political, we may have to take a leaf from Michelle Obama’s book. Conservative citizens, the sort of people who want to lead normal lives, away from the glare of politics, may have to move beyond their comfort zones--just for a few years. We may have to read more, become more informed, and fight harder. We have just a brief window of time to turn back the tide that has engulfed us. But in surrendering ourselves to politics, we must remember that the goal of life is not politics. In the American tradition, it is the liberty to lead lives as usual.