“Fame,” Rilke wrote, “is the sum total of all the misunderstandings that can gather around a new name.”
I bet Barack Obama can quote Rilke when he’s in front of the right audience. He had a good line or two about bitterness. Smart people like to quote Rilke.
Do you remember the first professor who made an impression on you? The cool one. You’re thinking about him now. Freshman semester. He was maybe the first cool adult you met in college, or maybe ever. He knew stuff, stuff that mattered. He had it in his gigantic brain. He made the boring parts interesting. And every day, he would share a bit more of that nougaty goodness for everyone in class to lap up excitedly. You never slept through any classes. He quoted people who you hadn’t heard of. He quoted the French in French. He was divorced, but with a hilarious mountain of self-deprecating stories drawn from the experience. He watched the shows you watched, but didn’t pretend to like your music. After hours, you’d see him not at the sketchy hardwood-and-lascivious-old-man faculty bar, but the student deli, where he would say things like Richard Dawkins would say if he was cool. He’d bum a cigarette off you without any hesitation. He’d invite whole classes to play cards or just hang out at his pad and talk about things that were important, which was sweet. He was a fantastic cook. He knew the best bars. He was awesome.
In sophomore year, you’d hear about how he slept with a couple of your friends, one per semester, that blonde from the dorm near his house and that redhead from downstairs. But he didn’t talk to them any more, and he wasn’t all that interested in you. If you saw him around, he was sitting at different tables now. He had moved on to the next year’s crop.
The girls all had the same reaction: yuck. Sometimes jealousy-tinged yuck, but: yuck. The guys all had the same reaction, too, whether they admitted it or not: cool.
I care for you deeply, my misguided liberal friends. I concede it was beautiful while it lasted. Yeah, it was. But this is what it feels like to wake up from the dream. Say goodbye to “I am the Adonis who turns winter into spring.” Say hello to the honest truth.
”There is this Obama-mania, where these young men get glassy eyes and start spitting out vague things about how Barack Obama is going to save humanity. Really, have you seen their eyes? It’s this faraway look. It’s scary.”
“I was confused by the saucer-eyed, unquestioning devotion shown by my formerly cynical cohorts” to Obama
“One of my closest girlfriends, an Obama voter, told me of a drink she’d had with a politically progressive man who made a series of legitimate complaints about Clinton’s policies before adding that when he hears the senator’s voice, he’s overcome by an urge to punch her in the face.”
“some described the suspicion that their politically progressive partners were actually uncomfortable with powerful women.”
“You already see this idealistic longing projected on Obama,” Bruch said. “People talk about him as a secular messiah who will bring us political salvation. There’s no sense of what is plausible.”
“The whole ‘Hillary Clinton is a monster’ theme is so virulent.”
“I spoke to a guy friend who said, ‘You’re being ridiculous. I’m not not voting for her because she’s a woman; I’m not voting for her because she’s a bitch!’
“Obama loyalty, like white masculinity itself, has become normative -– if you’re not for him, you’d best be prepared to explain your deviation.”
“Why don’t you like the Prof?” you’d ask your friends. “What’s your problem with him? You say he’s manipulative, anti-woman, living out some Professor of Desire fantasy? Nah, nah – you don’t get it! He’s the coolest guy around. He teaches you, he guides you, he’s changing the world one student at a time. He’s not like our parents.”
“Plus I once heard he totally has this phenomenal bong at his house, you should try it some time. He’ll expand your mind. He’ll make your whole world wide open up. Just think of the possibilities.”
It can change your whole way of viewing things, this new man with a new name. He’ll tell you about the corporations.
Stan: Hello, we are selling magazine subscriptions for our community youth program. Would you like to help young people like us by purchasing a subscription of your choice?
Hippie 1: Oh wow, you guys shouldn’t be doing that. Don’t you know what you’re doing to the world?
Kyle: Wha- whataya mean?
Hippie 2: You’re playing into the corporate game! See, the corporations are trying to turn you into little Eichmanns so that they can make money.
Stan: Who are the corporations?
Hippie 3: The corporations run the entire world. And now they fooled you into working for them.
Stan: Are you serious?? We never heard that.
Hippie 1: We just spent our first semester at college. Our professors opened our eyes. The government is using its corporate ties to make you sell magazines so they can get rich.
Kyle: Ugh! Those dirty liars!
Hippie 3: This is a really nice town you have here. That’s why the corporations are trying to use you to take it down.
Stan: Well… Well what do we do?
Hippie 1: Just hang with us for a bit. We’ll fill you in on everything you haven’t been told.
The funny thing about the coolest professor is that, as you get older, most people outgrow him. They realize what his shtick was all along. Or they go back for a 10th anniversary reunion and see that same prof, a little older, a little slower, but still drooling for the youngsters who don’t realize his message is as deep as a drainage puddle. It has a way of shocking you straight.
But some people don’t. Michael Barone’s Academics vs. Jacksonians thesis shows us that Obama’s support comes exactly from the people who never outgrow his personality type – in fact, many of them try to adopt it:
Academics’ adulation of Obama and Jacksonians’ disdain for him comes out vividly from the election data starting back in January. Why do academics love Obama while Jacksonians reject him? Probably for the same reasons. Because Obama is not at all a warrior and is something of an academic. He is all college campus and not at all boot camp. Indeed, his campaign has claimed he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, while he was actually just a senior lecturer; but all the evidence is that he was very much at home there and indeed was offered a tenure-track professorship. He grew up in a state—Hawaii—with a large military presence, but like most men with his academic aptitude, he seems never to have seriously considered military service. He has campaigned consistently as an opponent of military action in Iraq (though, as Peter Wehner has shown, his record is rather more complicated than that). His standard campaign statements on Iraq seem to suggest that all honor should go to the opponents of the war and none to the brave men and women who have waged it. His latest statements about leaving a “strike force” in Iraq suggest a certain insouciance or even indifference about what happens in a theater in which 4,000 Americans have died. He clearly lacks the military expertise of John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both diligent members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Like another eloquent little-known Illinois politician who emerged suddenly as an attractive presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, he seems more comfortable with the language of diplomacy and negotiation than with the words of war. Like Stevenson, he speaks fluently and often eloquently but does not exude a sense of command. He is an interlocutor, not a fighter.
Later in the Salon article, Jessica Valenti of Feministing (bet you didn’t know about that blog, you damn patriarchs) laments “the Oppression Olympics,”and that it just makes everyone look bad to pit racism vs. sexism (FTW!). Yeah, I agree, that just ain’t sporting. But don’t worry. It’ll be over soon.
Sharpen your pencils. The cool new Professor of Desire – chock full of all our hopes and dreams – is teaching class. He’s going to make it all better. He’ll sit back on his desk, roll up his sleeves, and share his wonderful, fluid, detail-free wisdom, and you will believe it.
You want him to like you. Forget what those silly girls are saying. They’re just jealous of his latest freshman muse, the brunette with the boots. Yeah. He’s the coolest guy ever.
You don’t want to be like him. You want to be him.