THE SMILER AND THE BEAST.
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.