Flop Sweat

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In this week’s New Yorker, if you can make it past the cover, Rick Hertzberg articulates a line of thinking I’ve heard from (among others) my husband:

Obama, it turns out, is a politician. In this respect, he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to succeed, from the Father of His Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes—very much including Obama, as Ryan Lizza shows elsewhere in this issue. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

It was inevitable that the boggier reaches of the blogosphere would eventually smell betrayal. In contrast, what bloggers call the MSM—the mainstream media—seldom trades in the currency of moral indignation. Although the better newspapers have regular features devoted to evaluating the candidates’ proposals for workability, the MSM generally eschews value judgments about the merits. The MSM—especially the cable-news intravenous drip—prefers flip-flops.

In other words: Don’t you want to win, you dirty freaking hippie? Except if you’re a member of the MSM, in which case, Don’t you want to be one of the “better newspapers”? Oh, and John McCain is worse.

I’m fine with people defending Obama’s flip-flops, but I don’t like pretending they don’t matter. Especially if it’s not just a simple change of some random position, but — as with FISA — a real rejection of a significant campaign promise. I’m probably going to vote for Obama, okay; I do not have to like it. I do not have believe that his awesomeness creates amnesia.

My friend Jason made a good point about the utility of this disappointment recently: It was inevitable that Obama would prove to be “a typical politician,” and that’s a good thing, because we’re not electing someone to be admiree-in-chief, we’re electing someone who will work for us. If Obama got through the primaries and the general election without ever losing a bit of that rock-star glow, it might be great for his electoral margin, but arguably bad for democracy. He’s not above our judgment, he is, in fact, totally accountable to it.

Of course, the most devastating rejoinder to Hertzberg’s argument is simply that he’s citing Andy Borowitz to make it.