The Taste of Obama

23Mar08

One of my favorite bloggers is Joe Posnanski, a brilliant Kansas City sports writer whose posts are entertainly digressive ramblings inspired by David Foster Wallace as much as Peter Gammons. Recently he launched a second blog, Favorable Ratings – inspired by Buck O’Neil, the late Negro League legend whom Poz wrote about in his book The Soul of Baseball, and the question of what would Buck have made of today’s Presidential race. Poz thinks Buck would have loved things about all three remaining candidates, and would have only had positive thoughts about how they each inspired him. In this spirit, Poz asked his readers to email him a short essay focusing on a positive and inspiring aspect of one candidate, creating “the most naive political blog on the internet.”

I sent him the following, and don’t know if it will make it onto his site, so I’ll share it here as well. The sentiments will be familiar to the readers of this blog, but perhaps the articulation will provoke discussion:

The Taste of Obama

One of my favorite quotes is from Nick Hornby’s brilliant novel (and the excellent film adaption) High Fidelity: “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” Like much of Hornby’s work, we’re supposed to read this quote as both an indication of the hero’s emotional shallowness, and as inherently true. Taste matters – what you like helps define what you are like.

And thus my support for Barack Obama stems from the many ways that I respect his personal accomplishments and intellect, agree with most of his policy proposals, and embrace the ethic of his campaign – but at the gut level, I return to one bit of trivia: I want Obama to be my President because his favorite television show is The Wire.

Obama’s taste speaks a lot to his character. Just the fact that he would publicly proclaim admiration for such an unpopular and marginal program demonstrates courage – no focus group would ever suggest that pledging allegiance to such a show would be a prudent move. The Wire is a grim program shining a light onto issues and people that television never highlights, except as passing mentions in local news stories itemizing inner city casualties. For a candidate who is running on a ticket of hope and idealism, being a fan of a bleak portrait of urban decay shows a level of complexity and understanding that, to me, says his message is not “just words,” but an optimistic outlook grounded in a pragmatic realism.

Moreover, I just love the idea of a President having spent meaningful time in The Wire‘s version of urban America. The corruption of today’s political system is not that lobbyists buy votes from politicians – rather, they buy access to spending time with politicians. The more time you spend with a particular group of people, the more your outlook and frame of reference begins to resemble theirs. I am reassured by the prospect of a President having spent 60 hours in The Wire‘s Baltimore, connected to the experiences and emotions of its characters and aware of the structural challenges they face. When Obama is facing decisions on trade policies, perhaps his mind will flash on Frank Sobotka making deals with drug dealers to save his dockworker union. When tempted by politically easy “tough on crime” legislation, perhaps he’ll think of how such policies might impact the real-life versions of Bubbles, Dukie, and D’Angelo.

It would be too much to ask that a President spends real time getting to know and listening to the homeless and the hopeless, all victims of American excesses – but it is reassuring to think that he has spent quality time in a fictional world where he cares about the human costs of the policies he’ll be making. Hopefully in this case, what he likes shapes what he is like, both as a man and as a President.



4 Responses to “The Taste of Obama”

  1. Jason, for the most part I’m with you here. Though I should relay that when I was waiting for the train home from Philly after SCMS, and on the day of the finale, there was an article in the Philly Inquirer written by the city’s mayor about why he’ll miss The Wire and why he thinks it’s the best show on TV (a quick Google search didn’t find it, or else I’d link). The opening paragraph grabbed me, and I was at first glad to see that Philly (a city quite like Baltimore in many ways) had such a mayor. Then I read on. He went on and on about how the show isn’t really about institutions, it’s really about individuals and about them making bad choices or good choices, and the problems of society stemming from those choices. It amazed me that he’d got the show so wrong. Sure, the individuals matter, but the institutions have a driving force that no individual can stop. And he didn’t seem to get that at all. Which now made me worry. So while Obama’s recent speech on race gave me assurances that Obama might actually watch The Wire and see what I see, not what Mayor Nutter (yes, that’s his name. In England, a nutter is someone who is crazy. nice) sees, reading that article by Nutter highlighted how it’s not just enough to like the “right” show — one has to like it in the “right” way.🙂

  2. Here’s the link to the Nutter article and its key quote:
    “It’s not that the institutions are flawed but that those institutions are dealing with deeply flawed people, and the responses to those folk are from people with their own problems. None of us is perfect, and you aren’t going to find anyone who is until you check into heaven.”

    Yeah, he missed it. He’s also not a very good writer. Let’s hope he’s a better Mayor than TV critic…

    I wonder what it says that both Nutter and Obama have named Omar as their favorite characters? Politicians identify with a character in a ruthless, cutthroat game that still tries to live by a code? Ultimately I identify with Lester more – work within a deeply flawed system, but try to do your best through careful research and attention to detail.

  3. I, too, have often cited Obama’s love of The Wire as a reason for my support. He wrapped up the TV critic vote early with that answer! Some of my contributors and I did a lengthy riff on various candidates’ TV leanings that I always think about publishing but never quite do because it may be funny to only us, but I half suspect many of them (at least the ones who’ve cited Lost as a favorite) only ran to find out what’s up with the smoke monster.


  1. 1 The Chutry Experiment » Raining McCain

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