Can we get back to normal now? Can we get down to addressing the myriad of problems that plague us? Can our feet touch the ground and our minds grasp reality?
Being in Washington this past week has been like living in a dream world, where everyone’s excited, happy, rich, starry-eyed, star-studded and fancy free. This is nothing like the real United States where stocks have lost trillions of dollars in value, credit is ridiculously tight, unemployment is at record highs, houses are being ripped out from under defaulting owners and jobs do not exist.
The deification of Barack Obama has elevated him above the Aurora Borealis, beyond the Milky Way and to points unknown. Whatever goes up must come down and when he does, the crash could be atomic.
I see two potential disasters emanating from this fantasy state. First, it could strain race relations to a point where they have not been for years. Second, overblown expectations for a completely untested president could crash and squander his immense public support much more quickly than might otherwise occur.
On the race front, I’m not sure whether to blame the media, the Democrats, African-Americans or all Americans, but to many people, the constant allusions to President Obama fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and some people’s claim that he is "our man" serve to deepen racial divisions, not erase them as Obama himself has sought to do. In the words of Detroit Free Press columnist and author Mitch Albom, on the meaning of Inauguration day:
"If you’re happy because Obama is half-black, and now black issues will be moved to the forefront — then today is nothing to celebrate, because you are breaking things down by race, and once you do that, it doesn’t matter which color you prefer, it’s still myopic, and its not unity."
I had a frank discussion about race and Obama’s inauguration with a close African-American friend. She explained that since white people did not suffer through slavery, we could not possibly understand the way African-Americans feel about President Obama’s historic win. She added, for the first time in her life she felt being African-American was an advantage rather than a disadvantage and "that feels good."
I would never pre-judge how it feels to be a member of any group to which I do not belong. But I do know if any other ethnic group (Hispanics, Latinos, Jews, Italians, Arabs, etc.) were celebrating in similar fashion, non-members would feel excluded and divided. What we all need to feel now is united.
On the financial side, expectations for President Obama’s performance have been driven to a point beyond limerence. Limerence is defined thusly on reference.com:
"Limerence, as posited by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, is an involuntary cognitive and emotional state in which a person feels an intense romantic desire for another person … Limerence can often be what is meant when one expresses having intense feelings of attachment, preoccupations with the love object, and (as new research on brain chemistry shows) a similar mind-state to obsessive compulsive disorder."
Progressive America, joined by Independents and moderates, elected a young, brilliant but untested progressive as president, largely in reaction to the chaotically destructive presidency of George W. Bush. Bush governed from so far right that he wreaked havoc on our financial and many other systems.
The economic problems we now face are now of such magnitude, we hope President Obama can fix them. He has tried mightily to downplay expectations. Once he gets to work as president, his version of change may or may not have an immediate and huge fiscal impact. If it does not, however, his followers’ deification of the man have created such a build-up, that a huge crush is possible.
Obama’s first job may well have to be managing public expectations. And if that’s the case, it will take away from his time managing the economy.
This is not good. If the economy begins to turn around quickly, then he will have been worthy of the deification. If it does not, we are all in much more trouble than we can imagine.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)