04.28.09

The Long Slog

President Obama's message emphasizes patient competence over quick fixes and spreads responsibility far and wide for the nation's most pressing problems.

The first thing Obama has done is establish a very different tone than what was in place when he came in. His manner and his vision have brought about a form of optimism that is very refreshing for the American scene, because it's based not on pretending we don't have certain kinds of problems or pretending certain problems can easily be solved or pretending problems are all the result of a very small conspiracy such as terrorists or whatever it is. This is a large and complex situation. For instance, when he talks about the financial crisis, he says, “Well, on the one hand the people in charge of the money did very devious things that could have been stopped were regulations in place. But on the other hand, a person who knows that he can't afford a $300,000 house but gets one anyway is also irresponsible.” I think it’s an evenhanded recognition of the duality of the problem that's very, very important because it's not good enough to just say that the banks blew it, the insurance companies blew it, the guys on Wall Street messed everything up. All of that is true, but they didn’t do it all and they couldn’t have done it without the complicity of the people.

Beyond that, the fact that Obama has never given the impression that things can be handled in a jiffy, I think, is refreshing, too. He's reiterating something that existed in American life before the American mind was warped in certain ways by technological innovation. That is to say that when people actually had to travel many miles by boat or by wagon train or by horse or on foot, they didn't have the kind of illusory sense of things that comes when you start driving autos or taking airplanes or hearing broadcasts on the radio or seeing things on television or talking to people literally around the world. That can create an illusory sense of availability—it makes people have an unrealistic sense of how quickly things can be done. I think the fact Obama has not bought into that mentality and continues to say that we're in a mess that’s a result of 12 years of bad leadership and bad decisions on a number of fronts, that we won't get out of this quickly but that we can get out of it—I think that whole idea of long-range vision is very refreshing. That's a drastically different conception of life than, say, the Iraq invasion, which led to a statement of “mission accomplished” in a ludicrously short period of time when we look back at it now.

Stanley Crouch's culture pieces have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times, Vogue, Downbeat, The New Yorker, and more. He has served as artistic consultant for jazz programming at Lincoln Center since 1987, and is a founder Jazz at Lincoln Center. In June 2006 his first major collection of jazz criticism, Considering Genius: Jazz Writings, was published. He is presently completing a book about the Barack Obama presidential campaign.

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