Fortunately G. W. Bush failed as a post-modern president. He was unable to project a successful image of himself and failed at being only a pragmatist and relativist. Unfortunately, he also failed to govern according to Biblical and eternal principles. He applied some clear principles but often did what he thought, i.e. felt was right. I believe that he is a man of convictions, but these convictions are not always founded on godly foundations. In certain areas he allowed for decisions that were unbiblical. Alas, he supported the idolatrous concept of Statism which encourages “Big Government” and the apparent inevitability of Big Government. Some examples of this would be the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare Prescription Drug benefits, endless deficits, the budgetary increases, and finally the bailouts. His economic plan was pragmatic as well and his justification for war was ineptly presented and articulated. .
As the Bush presidency ends and Obama’s begins what can we look forward to in the future? Will the Obama presidency be a principled or a post-modern presidency? What have we learned concerning this through the campaign and election of 2008? I contend that the election of 2008 was the most post-modern campaign in American history that projects to the ascendency of a truly post-modern president in Barach Obama.
In the election of 2008 the candidates were continually creating images of themselves and trying to tag the other with short lasting impressions. It did not matter whether these impressions were true or not; what mattered is whether they stuck or not, or whether they were useful. We know that images stick, especially since the age of television politics began. The forerunner was the 1960 election when Kennedy debated Nixon on television and presented a far superior presence than Nixon, probably securing him victory. And who can forget the 1988 election when Bush constantly ran a commercial depicting Dukakis as a goofball riding in a tank with his helmeted head bouncing out of the top. These were very powerful images.
In the 2008 election each candidate was trying to own the concept of “change”. Both Obama and McCain claimed to be agents of change and it often became a contest between who could create the greatest facade of change. Also they tried to portray the other as having a specific image whether that picture was true or not, accurate or not, with it sometimes being partially true. For example, McCain called Obama a socialist. He tried to make this image of Obama stick. Is it true that Obama is a socialist? As a philosopher I have read the writings of socialists. The truth of the matter is that, yes, an argument can be made that Obama is a socialist, but McCain was not good at explaining what a socialist is (one who believes in the centralized ownership of property) and exactly how Obama practices socialism. This was difficult because McCain also has socialist tendencies and publicly supported the government bailout of the banking industry which was clearly a socialist action. In some ways it was one socialist calling the other socialist, a socialist.
McCain was unsuccessful at making any truly negative image of Obama stick. He attempted to portray him as inexperienced or anti-American but never really succeeded. In contrast, Obama and his supporters were able to make McCain look consistently erratic by pinning this image of him as erratic based on his sudden decision to return to Washington and call off the campaign when the financial crisis broke out in its fullest. Yes, this may have been an erratic-like decision by McCain, but by linking this to a few other actions like McCain’s choice of Palin along with McCain’s age made this portrayal of McCain stick.
Is McCain erratic? I don’t know, but many of the talking heads picked up on the use of this term and suddenly everyone believed this presented a reason to be hesitant about McCain. It did not matter whether it was a true character portrayal or not. Americans believed that this made him a risky candidate. The Obama campaign also successfully linked the image of McCain to the image of Bush thus damaging McCain as well. And the slaughter of Palin by presenting false images or half-true images of her is inexcusable but was a very successful part of the Obama campaign. McCain’s campaign often reverted to his true image of American hero, even though those events of over thirty years ago are irrelevant to his policies today. They can only reflect a bit of significance about his current character.
There was not much real substance to the campaign. Many cannot tell you what Obama believes beyond his promise to end the war and to cut taxes. They are unaware of his voting record on issues like abortion and government spending or control. Obama won the election not because of his policies, but because he had a superior story and created a better image. There was little in the campaign about policy. Obama won because he established an image of youthfulness, vitality, steadiness, change and due to his organizational skills and ability to communicate. Most people cannot tell you what his political accomplishments are except winning elections. And Obama supporters accused McCain of avoiding the issues all the while curtailing the campaign from becoming a contest about issues or from it being about Obama’s voting record as the most liberal in all of the Senate. And I personally enjoy asking Obama supporters what he has politically accomplished other than succeeded at being elected. They do not have a response or they mutter something unrelated to the question.
Obama wants to be perceived as the president of all Americans. He wants to be looked at as a centrist. Evidence of this is shown by his choice of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates a holdover from the Bush administration and of his using Rick Warren as the pastor leading the inaugural prayer. These present us an image of a moderate democrat attempting to appeal to all America. But when it comes to social issues Obama is no moderate. He made a campaign promise to Planned Parenthood that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act if it came to his desk. This would overrule all abortion limitations that have been passed by states. As Citizens for Community Values has revealed He has also named Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services. The former Senator never saw an abortion limitation he liked and even supported partial birth abortion. He will support all anti-family legislation. Obama has spoken of reducing the number of abortions nevertheless his White House Communications Director will be Ellen Moran, the Executive Director of Emily’s List, whose only mission is to promote pro-abortion candidates. Overall, it looks like the litmus test of serving in the Obama cabinet or on his staff is to be pro-abortion. Any suspicions how it will affect his court appointments? But this extreme liberalism is not the image we have of him.
Obama has promised to “rebuild America”. We need a “new” America, but I am afraid that it is not the one of that will be given in the near future. The best we can expect will be a new image of America, but this incoming post-modern president could be very successful at providing a successful image of a rebuilt America. The concern, however, must be that what that America will look like? I have my suspicions. What will come next may ultimately be very disconcerting and not at all look like the America we were raised on. A successful post-modern presidency will provide an appearance of success and a perception that we have solved our troubling problems, but it will not really be an answer and certainly not make us a better people. It is time for Americans to regroup, to reject the premises of post-modern relativism, pragmatism, and image-building and to return to a principled, biblically-based world view. This will be the only way to truly solve the crises that we now face. Let us commit ourselves to this prayer and effort.