Sunday, January 18, 2009

Can 50,000,000 Barack Obama Fans Be Wrong?

I woke up this morning in the Bizzaro World. The news networks were no longer spouting economic doom alongside stories of lost jobs and eradicated savings. It seems I was transported into a different America, one filled with hope and promise. Although we are riding the inaugural starship, it’s a little easy to get knee deep in all the hoopla. After the November election, I wrote that it was everyone’s right to celebrate the night of Barack Obama’s historic victory. It takes much more courage to stand with and support the unknown than something which is established. As on election night, I fully respect the right for those who supported Obama during the election to enjoy all the current pomp and circumstance surrounding his inauguration. However, there are going to be many people at these inaugural parties who did not support Obama but are attending the inauguration for personal status, to see and be seen, which is downright pompous.

The majority of the media’s coverage of Obama’s inauguration I’ve seen thus far is business as usual, covering the celebrities and beautiful people attending the festivities. I do not for one second, doubt the impact and significance of Obama’s inauguration on the African-American community, many of whom are making pilgrimages to Washington to witness a moment they never thought they would see. Larry King isn’t interviewing these folks, however. He’s way too busy chatting up Sheryl Crow.

When the inaugural balls and parties throughout America are in full swing Tuesday night, are the news networks going to go to Chicago’s south side to a bar party, where the celebration will be quite genuine? Or will they lurk inside ritzy hotels, photographing a wealthy crowd who will be predominately white and probably cares less about the poor people Obama pledges to help than their failing investments? My Adam Koeppe Simple Math has estimated at least ten percent of people who plan on stylin’ and profilin’ at these parties either voted for John McCain or didn’t bother to vote at all. I bet you can even find someone who can’t tell you anything about Abraham Lincoln except that he is on the five dollar bill (psst: they’ll be the ones cheering the loudest). If you’re at home right now, selecting your jewelry or cuff-links with care, setting your iPhone to Facebook and Twitter your experience, booking reservations at the party where you can meet that certain someone, primping and prepping uncooperative children on proper behavior – THIS IS YOU (psst: they’re the ones buying all the Obama merch).

We’ve seen these types of people before, true believers. In the sporting world, they are known as “fair-weather fans”. Everyone has encountered this type of species before. When the hard-luck, local team finally puts together a winning season, they’re the ones who are first to sport a championship tee shirt, yet somehow can’t name more than two players on the team. “Fair-weather fans” tend to cheer the loudest, yet avoid any in-depth discussion regarding the team they profess to adore. Not surprisingly, if the hometown team doesn’t win the big one, they are the first to discard their expensive jerseys and go back to following American Idol. If you are attending an inaugural party with good intentions, have a good time and enjoy the historic moment. Just watch who you dance with.

The thousands of earnest Americans who choose to participate in Obama’s coronation are encouraged to party hardy – but with a specific caveat. If you can afford to attend, great. Your revelry helps the economy and provides a needed stimulus for the retail/service sector. In doing so, however, you are implicitly forfeiting your right to complain about your finances if you blow thousands of dollars on inauguration day. If you can’t afford your house payment next month due to partying with the beautiful people, you aren’t part of “change” but are a portion of the problem that President Obama pledges to fix. Change, like life itself, is ambiguous, unknowable and doesn’t happen overnight. I’m pretty sure Barack Obama is not going to let you write off your party dress on your taxes. We all bear a part in the country’s economic problem. The solutions do not (and should not) lay on the shoulders of one person.

When the inaugural hangover subsides, there are several sobering issues surrounding Barack Obama’s administration. Many of his supporters are operating under a delusion in regards to several of his cabinet picks, forgiving discretions that George Bush’s administration was crucified for. Obama’s Attorney General Nominee, Eric Holder, was a key figure in Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, an indicted tax evader who was charged with 51 counts of tax fraud before fleeing the country. Tim Geithner, Obama’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, failed to pay over $40,000 in taxes until it was politically expedient for him to do so. The potential political fallout of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the full extent of “pay to play” has yet to be resolved.

To his credit, Barack Obama called Geithner’s tax issues “an embarrassment” and Holder apologized profusely for his involvement in Marc Rich’s pardon. Obama has shown thus far that he is breaking away from the George Bush style of cronyism, holding his staff accountable for their actions. However, if “pay to play” is indeed the name of the game, Obama will be faced with many challenges if he wishes to maintain his campaign promise of transparency. How will he react if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is once again attacked by imaginary sniper-fire? Of greater concern is Obama’s reluctance to address the massive fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff, who is just one of many individuals currently indicted for ponzi schemes which have destroyed the county’s confidence in Wall Street and financial sector. If Obama proposes longer prison terms and bigger fines for those who have participated in the complete raping of Americans’ finances, he is surely to run into opposition from many of the same folks who are dancing in the limelight celebrating his inauguration.

Barack Obama takes the faith and hope of all Americans with him when he ascends the Presidency. As he makes his historic speech (trust me, it’s gonna be good), Obama bears the weight of his many promises on his shoulder. It is my hope that he makes good on them, regardless of political consequences. His popularity compared to his Democratic colleagues in Congress should provide sufficient leverage when the special-interest, lobbying vultures come calling. It will take great fortitude, but he has shown his mettle thus far. As for the future, time, as always, will tell. My message to President Obama after the election was “May the Force be with you.” I stand by that statement with one addendum: Beware the Dark Side. Dangerous, it is.

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