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Election Day

November 6, 2012

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth– that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.

— from “Politics as a Vocation”
by Max Weber


I used this quote, a favorite of mine, in an election day email I sent out two years ago. At that point it was clear that the right-wingers were going to win the day, and the rest of us lose it. So it happened. And so I felt the need for Weber’s exhortation to steadfastness of heart. Things are looking better today, even only insofar as the status quo will likely be preserved. (Though maybe not.) This is not a small matter. For one thing, it dramatically increases my chances of getting health insurance. And the Supreme Court will not get worse and, given the right Act of God, might get much, much better. And we will no longer have to watch Mitt Romney attempt to smile. These things alone would be enough to make me glad if Obama and the Senate Democrats prevail, but there is much else besides, including things that we cannot predict but we can know the R’s would make worse. Because that’s how they do.

In 2008 Barack Obama exceeded my hopes — I had never expected to be able to cast my vote for a Presidential candidate, and a winning one at that, who I felt as good about as I did about him. It’s not so thrilling the second time around, but not because I am disappointed with him. Many people profess disappointment. In my harsher moments I think they are just admitting to their own stupidity. He seems to me to have governed in pretty much the way any reasonable person would have been lead to expect, and done well at it. He has taken on a job that is not only difficult but insanely absurd, inhuman, outrageous. To be the fucking President! It is a credit to the man that he has not just curled up  up in a ball under his Oval Office desk and cried non-stop for the past four years. Because that’s what you or I would have done, most likely. Of course I would have liked his Presidency to have gone better, but its problems have been more due to other people, chiefly Republican people, than to himself. A Presidency becomes what it will be not out of the work of one man alone but out that of a whole nation. If you want to be indignant, better to be indignant over the failure of so many to simply be decent human beings rather than over Obama’s failure to be the superhero of your fantasies.

If not a superhero, is Obama a hero, in the very sober sense of Weber? Maybe so. I think he has shown a clear steadfastness of heart. The question may hinge on what it means to reach out for the impossible. Many will say that he has not shown us that boldness in his actions, and I get their point. But consider the times. Any times. Life itself. In  this world, the one we find ourselves in, even modest goods may be more impossible that we want to think. To be reasonable, responsible, pragmatic, decent, to make things a little better — these are wilder ambitions than they may seem. But Barack Obama is slowly boring away, and I am happy to support him with my vote.


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