There are few bipartisan things left in Washington: pancakes; mutual disdain for Clint Hill’s lady pantsuits; John Boehner’s botched spray tan; eastern market. Perhaps another thing we can agree on is our country’s’ linear movement towards collective nostalgia and historical idealism.
Facebook just acquired Instagram, a photo-sharing app that takes modern photographs and makes them look vintage. Let’s call this phenomenon hipstoriography: rewriting history from a hip perspective. Just in case your Aunt Jenny’s Memorial Day BBQ wasn’t torturous enough, now we can see twitpics of her flag arm and strawberry fields apron in sepia. Thanks, Steve Jobs.
With the collective unconscious shifting from progressivism towards nostalgia, I can’t help but wonder if this election will pave a path forward while reflecting on past administration. It is easy to draw comparison between the Kennedy and Obama administrations. Political historians continue to analogize the myopic Catholic boy wonder with resurrected black Jesus himself.
The elections of 1960 and 2008 decided who was going to make America stop chasing her tail; those contests threw the winner in the maelstrom of cultural and political upheaval. While the post World War II era brought great prosperity through the GI Bill and welcomed the rise of the baby boomer generation, it also ushered in an era of promise. The promise was for American exceptionalism: superiority over the Soviet Union, brokering decolonization, integrating African Americans through Civil Rights legislation, the race to space, and a restored faith in ourselves. Ask not if your country gives a crap about you, ask if you give a crap about your country.
While the Kennedy reign revived the presidency and galvanized the electorate, it did little to control the political unrest ahead. Kennedy maintained his relatively high approval rating despite his policy gaffes in Cuba and constructing an unpaved back alleyway toward Vietnam. While Americans were caught in the crossfire of his explosive magnetism and palatable oratory skills, they neglected to see what was right in front of them.
For all of the promise of the passed torch from one generation to the next, little changed in the wake of Kennedy’s presidency. Cold War realpolitik got the best of him (and he likely died because of it). While history has vindicated him, the geopolitical realities and fault lines tell another story. There is one thing that is certain though: if looks could kill we would have won the Cold War.
Unlike the 1960 election, 2008 was a referendum on the failed Bush Doctrine of dogmatic unilateralism and blind neglect. If the mission was alienating the international community and collapsing the global economy, it was certainly accomplished. While some argue that the reign of Clintonville should have continued, Obama promised that hope was all the country needed to move forward. Progressivism would prevail in the face of draconian malfeasance.
Like Kennedy, Obama inherited a presidency that he fell victim to. Campaigning on hope over fear, and unity over purpose, his actions have not lived up to that promise. But I can’t blame the president for his political misgivings and strategic shift to the center. He inherited the global financial collapse, the Arab Spring, and Joe Biden. While he failed to close Gitmo, he did one hell of a job at shooting Obama, err, Osama in the face.
Going into the 2012 general election, I see a changing political breeze in the winds ahead. Americans care less about the Houla massacre and more about their loose pocket change. James Carville got it right in ’92 and indeed, this election is about the economy, stupid.
While Obama’s campaign unleashed an offensive strategy in attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital, he has done little to convince Americans that another term will indeed bring change. We need assurance that this next chapter in our history will be a beacon for human rights, economic prosperity, social equality, reproductive rights for women, and an end to global nuclear proliferation.
Moving forward, perhaps what Americans needs is a progressive answer to Instagram. Let us not surrender to hipstoriography and lay to rest the ironic mustachioed 1890’s themed bike rides. Rather then the continued naiveté of historical idealism lets bid farewell to the past and focus on the future.