"I can tell you one thing, Jack," said the tipsy stranger who introduced himself at a local watering hole. "It's going to be a long four years," he lamented, as if the election of Barack Obama meant impending doom.
I smiled and nodded in agreement, thinking privately, "Hell, it's been a long eight years," an assessment I knew instinctively the gentleman wouldn't have agreed with and for partisan reasons that wouldn't have been the least bit reasonable.
In some ways the bitter divide between the most partisan Republicans and Democrats appears to have widened since the election. All of the Obama-lovers, who are embracing "change," have a way of enraging all the Obama-haters, who are already predicting catastrophe. The feeling's mutual.
This is all symbolic nonsense.
Consider this. Can anyone give a single logical reason why Clemson and Carolina fans are bitter foes? Anytime the two meet, an athletic game is decided by similar teams, manned by similar players, representing similar South Carolina towns. Becoming a Clemson or Carolina fan has never been the result of comparison shopping. It's tribal.
The divide between many Obama supporters and critics reflects the same tribal mentality. As much as we stress individuality, people more often desire to be a part something larger than themselves. Clemson and Carolina fans feel part of a larger community in rooting for their respective teams. Punk rock kids find meaning in going to the same concerts that all the kids dressed in the same clothes as they wear do. Many Christians find salvation in Christ, but they also find camaraderie, and no doubt many churchgoers are primarily enticed by the latter.
I'm no different. As a conservative commentator I contribute to a number of different publications and broadcast media, and simply being a part of the American Right, however great or small, gives my life meaning. So does this column.
And for many, so does being for or against Barack Obama. A primary reason so many McCainiacs rallied to their hero during the election had little to do with his politics, as few Republicans genuinely like McCain the politician. But McCain did represent their team, the Republican team.
Black Americans who voted for Obama obviously were first and foremost interested in supporting one of their own, as were Democrats-at-large, whether out of racial or party loyalty. Post-election, Obamaniacs still faithfully worship their hero before he's really had the chance to actually do anything. Being on the side of the president-elect gives the lives of his supporters meaning, and the "Hope" and "Progress" Obama stickers that adorn their cars bear more of a similarity to a "Go Cocks!" bumper sticker than a political statement of substance.
A favorite stunt by conservative talk hosts during the election was to stop Obama supporters on the street and ask them specific reasons for their support, with the intention being to make them look stupid. I found this degrading; tribal politics is emotional and not something to be explained. For every poor Obama supporter who was lampooned by condescending talk hosts for simply saying their candidate stood for "change," I wondered what exactly the average McCain supporter would have said if asked to justify his vote? That McCain was a war hero? That he wasn't Obama? Are either answers better than "change"?
And why are these same hosts now nitpicking every cabinet selection Obama makes to a ridiculous degree, after remaining silent for eight years during one of the most blatantly incompetent and disastrous administrations in history? The answer is simple: these hosts belong to the Republican Party as an occupation and their allegiance to the GOP gives their lives meaning. They're not trying to make sense; they're trying to enrage. Their job is not to impart logic, but to rally the team, take the field, and win the game. Damn Gamecocks. Damn Democrats.
Barack-O-Rama continues to sweep the nation, and opposition to it will continue to be fueled by similar emotions. The gentleman who warned me of the "long four years ahead" was not necessarily wrong, but his attitude is simply the flip side of the same mania that inspires the Obama faithful.
As a conservative, I anticipate leveling many attacks against Obama, as I have Bush, and I anticipate they'll be for much of the same reasons. But I attack the person specifically because of his policies, not because of his team colors.
Those who cheer for Obama now are essentially cheering for nothing, just as those who bash Obama are essentially bashing nothing. Obama has done nothing. But like a Mohawk haircut, Cocky the Gamecock mascot, or a crucifix, Obama the symbol compels some folks to take sides and defend their tribe or attack the other one accordingly. They may not know why, but they certainly know how. Team Obama's jerseys read "change!" Team Nobama's read "charge!" And now the two tribes go to war over nothing at all.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.