1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Ends (and Means) of History

This week is every bit the world-changing event I had hoped it would be. The girl and I went out last night and watched "W." to get a sense of the what we're leaving behind. It's not a very good movie, but it does do a nice, if cartoonish job of summing up Bush's approach to foreign policy and the Team of Ribalds he surrounded himself with.

On a more somber note, as ecstatic as we are for Obama and what he represents, I think his true story, and the story of his presidency, will be much more somber. The death of "Toots" the day before the election was fitting, a mark of what all of this will mean for him. I don't think there has been another present who felt as profoundly the weight of the office since L.B.J. And it destroyed him. When Obama is not speaking -- when he's just walking, or standing there, looking down, I think you can see how much it weighs on him, and how much he senses that he's become a vehicle for history (because at his level, no one is the driver -- ask Carter).

I think he will be a glimpse of the great leaders of the past. I think his administration will prove just as talented (if also, as driven by history and crisis) as his campaign was. As someone put it on N.P.R. the other day, he's the kind of guy who's likely to end up on some money. But I think he'll probably remain a mystery to us, always reserved, always, in some sense, with a foot inside that pantheon of great leaders, and hence, set apart.

The folks on his team are almost fanatical in their devotion (read this amazing post about his campaign and its people). He's a movement for them first, a man second. Even for those (outside Michelle and his family) who've known him the longest. And what that really means, is that among them, he's alone.

I don't know how to describe what I'm trying to express here -- how I feel about it. It's a mixture of respect, and sadness, and hope. He's not exactly a tragic figure, but behind all of the worship, I think, is a sad truth he's come to terms with: his life will never be his own. There's a good line in "W.," where Bush senior turns to junior and says, "maybe you should stay out of the barrel." 43 bridles at what he takes as his dad's preference for Jeb. But later he comes to see it as a reflection upon just how hard the Presidency is, and his dad's wish that his son would live a life he could enjoy. The great ones never have a choice. But they feel what they gave up.

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