Politics & Social Justice Archive

The Pope of Hope: Obama and the Arts

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

A co-worker asked me today, "Do you think that that Shepard Fairey poster had any impact on the election?"

I thought about it for a moment. "Absolutely," I answered.

A lot has been written about Barack Obama's ability to inspire people—with his soaring rhetoric, his remarkable life story, his ability to relate and, yes, empathize with the average person.

But beyond all that, and working mostly in the subconscious, is Obama's transformation somewhere along the line into a straight-up, full-steam-ahead symbol. And not an empty one, like John McCain's oddly disconcerting Joe the Straight-Talking-Plumbing-Man, either. A symbol with substance.

But let's stick to the symbol.

An icon, a simplified image, has an inherent, unambiguous power. A really good one has a clarity and a truth that is self-evident. I would argue that the reason the Shepard Fairey image works so well and took off the way it did is that in a single illustration, Obama and Hope become so intertwined that they are one and the same. When you look at that image, you don't see Barack Obama. You see hope—and everything it signifies to you, whoever, wherever you are.

So it seems only fair that, having been given so much by art and artists, Obama is promising to give a little back. No, not exactly a quid pro quo—this has been part of the Obama platform for over a year, after all. But rather, recognizing that soft power is hugely important in influencing perceptions of the U.S. around the world, Obama plans to greatly increase funding for arts education and the NEA, as well as create an "Artists Corps" of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. (For more detail, including a new tax and health care policy, I recommend reading Obama's policy plan for the arts.) After 8 years of a small, mean, brutish, incurious man in our nation's highest office, it's more than a little refreshing to see somebody (knock wood, knock wood) take office who actually recognizes the value of art.

And speaking of voting, today being November 4, I'd be remiss if I didn't say anything about it. So, if you haven't already, what are you waiting for? Go out there and

8 Ways John McCain Could Still Win

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Walter Shapiro had an interesting and thought-provoking article on Salon.com yesterday about how John McCain still has a chance to win this thing, if he plays his cards right. I’m not going to tell you to go read it—who has time to read these days, with the economy the way it is? I went ahead and summarized it for you. No need to thank me—I do what I do because I love America.

Walter starts off with some wise words of caution for all us prematurely euphoric Democrats/Liberals/Progressives out there: “Even amid the current rush to electoral certainty, there are still valid reasons for Democrats to contain any irrational exuberance.”

(Yes. Thank you, Walter. Obama’s so far ahead in the polls I was going to show up to work with no shirt on, answer all my e-mails out loud, and scream made-uppy words whenever a co-worker tried to talk to me. But now, thanks to your sobering entreaty, I’ll be able to contain myself.)

So here they are—Walter Shapiro’s “Four Ways John McCain Could Still Win,” followed by my even more sobering and insightful “Four More Ways John McCain Could Still Totally Win.” McCain ‘08!

#1: The Volatile Voter! (I had to read this one twice because I missed the part where McCain could win)

22 days is a long time, and public opinion could change. (Walter gives some historical precedents for big swings in poll numbers in the final days leading up to an election—but he never quite gets around to how or why public opinion could change. He doesn’t bother with any specifics about what McCain should do to actually bring about that change and turn the tide. That’s not his job! You figure it out, McCain Campaign. So, yeah—nothing here beyond a lukewarm gut feeling that the Undecideds are being undercounted. The polls are straining Walter's credulity!

In other words, “I don’t believe so many people already know they're voting for Barack Obama. And because it’s so unbelievable to me, John McCain could win.”

#2: The October Surprise!

“[I]t seems both alarmist and in bad taste to speculate about the political fallout from a pre-election terrorist incident,” (even though that's exactly what I'm doing). “But al-Qaida surprises can come in less lethal packages.”

Translation: McCain could still win if bin Laden puts out a tape saying he plans to attack America, and/or that he really wants Barack Obama to become president, because a Democratic president would make it easier for terrorists to sneak into the country and eat our children. If that were to happen, and if Americans trust McCain with their national security more than they trust Obama with our financial, educational, environmental, and diplomatic security, or they’re foolish and gullible enough to let terrorists decide the outcome of an American election, then McCain could win.

I’ll admit, this one is almost plausible—so keep your fingers crossed for a terrorist attack, Republicans! (Er, a non-lethal one, of course.)

#3 “Maverick” McCain rolls the dice (cuz that’s been working awesome)!

McCain makes an “I will serve only one term” pledge. You know what? I like this one. In fact, that strategy could work so well, I’ll go you one better: McCain makes an “I will serve no terms” pledge. “Vote for me and I will immediately step aside and give the Presidency to Barack Obama. I promise.”


Call President Bush (and all Republicans, I guess) an asshole (assholes). It may anger the base, the only group still supporting McCain and Palin at this point, and it won’t win them any converts, but it sure would be Mavericky. I can already see the t-shirts:


#4 Concentrate on the battleground states, and pray for a miracle!

All right, Johnny ol’ salt, let’s hop on board the Reality Express© here. Iowa doesn’t want you? Fuck ‘em. You were a P.O.W.—therefore, you understand the pain of a crushing and humiliating electoral defeat. So screw the lost causes. Concentrate all your efforts on Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Sure, even if you win every single one of them, it still won’t be enough. But who knows? Maybe California will break your way. They’ve got like, what, 80 electoral votes? Start measuring the drapes!

What—you think those are all the tricks Big Mac has up his sleeve? Nuh uh, baby. Here’s Four More surefire ways Johnny McC could still clinch the Presidency. In no particular order.

#5: Voo doo.

Yes, voo doo.

#6: People think you’re angry, and they expect you'll try to chill out. Make the Maverick Move: get way angrier, start swearing.

Example: Call a press conference at 2 in the morning, scream “I am gonna Maverick the fuck out of the Presidency.” Punch a wall for 7 minutes.

#7: Start wearing blackface, pretend nothing is different.

#8: Buy a half hour of prime time TV nationwide; cry and beg.

I wrote some sample dialogue, just to get the ball rolling:

“You know” (wipe freely running nose on sleeve) “You know I started cutting myself last night? Just to see if I could still feel.

“Turns out I can’t.”