One of the most generally overlooked pieces of recent political fiction is Warren Ellis's and Darick Robertson's comic book series Transmetropolitan. In the first major arc of the series, a journalist, Spider Jerusalem, comes out of retirement as a presidential election is just starting to ramp up. This guy had made his name going after the incumbent president -- "The Beast" -- who's up for re-election. The Beast is a mix of the worst caricature of Richard Nixon mixed with the id of some primal force of cynicism -- something remarkably like Dick Cheney, though the series launched in 1997. The Beast was a nihilst, whose only governing philosophy was to keep 51% of the population alive.

Running against him is a Senator that Jerusalem calls "The Smiler." He's a charming, young figure, pushing for unity and reconciliation in the wake of the Beast's divisive approach. He gets Jerusalem's endorsement largely on the strength of not being the Beast, but it's not long before Jerusalem discovers the superficial campaign hides and much more authoritarian and power-mad approach than anything the Beast had to offer. It's too late, though; the Smiler wins and Jerusalem unleashes his anger by throwing hand grenades off his balcony.

Ellis modeled the Smiler on Tony Blair, New Labour and the Third Way -- an optimistic style and a generational shift at the end of a reign of terror, with no mind being paid to what it all will mean in terms of governing. But I'll be honest: It's hard not to think of the Smiler every time I hear Barack Obama speak. He sounds like a well-meaning man whose greatest quality is that he's Not George Bush. I've been thinking of Obama as a new Jimmy Carter, but maybe Blair is the better analogy. I got on this line of thinking thanks to Avedon who recalls a lot of what the Obama people are expressing coming from young Labourites in 1997, only to see it fizzle as Blair and his party suddenly had to deal with the reality of governing. Avedon, in turn, jumps off this post by Roz Kaveney which ends as such:

What I do think is that I would rather have a battered pragmatic public servant than an untried personable spinner of wonderful empty words; I see the idealism that has focussed on [Obama] and I remember how many of my friends had real hope from Blair as opposed to voting for him because it was important to get the Tories out.

A Clinton Presidency is going to be unexciting, not especially idealistic and only better by comparison with Bush. But it will break no one's hearts.

I look at my friends list and see a lot of wonderful ideals and I worry that Obama will break your hearts if he attains power.

I hope that I am wrong.

Me too. One way or another, 2008 is probably not going to be the only time he runs for president.

Posted by Aaron S. Veenstra ::: 2008:01:30:21:02


Mom2 said:

I believe the Kennedy clan (and Oprah, to a lesser degree) have handed the country over to John McCain and (his could be VP) Fred Thompson. Hilary might not be exciting, or say things to make you forget the way things are, but she sees and understands the role of government and the presidency in a true light and will act accordingly. She understands the game playing that has to go on and can work the room to make things happen, which, given the rather weak nature of the Congress this year, is a good thing.

No one can say what kind of president John Kennedy would have been given 8 years, instead of 3, so comparing Obama to him is a waste of time. Obama is like the roses the grocery store sells -- they look beautiful, but have no perfume and fade quickly. I am too old and cynical to hold out any hope that he's anything but show and no go. Anyone can look good on TV, and he has a nice smile. He looks sincere -- and I'm sure he is. He's too inexperienced to understand what he doesn't know.

Ben Stein called it: no one person in Washington can change anything alone. Obama doesn't have the chops to pull people together, and even Jack Kennedy from the grave can't help him with that.

More's the pity, and the blame will rest squarely on the shoulders of those who wouldn't dare to ask for substance instead of style.

Avedon said:

I don't think Blair just accidentally turned into a horrible leader. He had Rupert Murdoch's blessings and declared during the campaign that, "We're all Thatcherites, now!" A lot of people in the anti-Thatcher movement just refused to take it seriously because they were so, so dedicated to getting rid of the Tories at last.

The fact is that Bush, Blair, and Obama are all people who sent dual messages, both liberal and conservative, but it was always clear to me that Bush and Blair meant it when they said all those conservative things. Obama says them so casually that they seem natural to him, and I worry that he, too, means them.

The ironic thing, I think, is that Blair seemed at the time (to me, in the US) to be parroting Bill Clinton in a lot of ways. Clinton didn't take the Third Way thing nearly as far -- probably losing the legislature after two years made him somewhat less conciliatory -- but for Obama to now be running against late-model Clinton in the guise of Blair/early-model Clinton is something that I think a lot of his supporters overlook. And maybe this explains the exit poll discrepancy between the 18-24 and 25-29 age groups, with the latter trending more towards Hillary -- we remember how this thing failed the last time, and some of us might see some virtue in having experienced that failure first-hand.

I believe the Kennedy clan (and Oprah, to a lesser degree) have handed the country over to John McCain and (his could be VP) Fred Thompson.

I suspect you're not going to give up on Fred Thompson running the country until he's dead and buried.

Mom said:

He just looks so presidential... Of course, he could just be a good actor and a bad politician, but I think he's positioned himself very well to be cast as the supportive running mate.

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