The very best thing about Barack Obama

By Mark Morford

Nope, it’s not what you might think. The best thing about Barack Obama has almost nothing to do with him as a person or as a leader or even as Oh My God The First Black President Who Could Really Change Everything I Mean Wow. It’s not even the wondrous oratory power or the charisma or the sweet sense of deeper change overlaid with all kinds of sparkly utopian futuriffic goodness.
by Mark Morford

obama.jpgNope, it’s not what you might think. The best thing about Barack Obama has almost nothing to do with him as a person or as a leader or even as Oh My God The First Black President Who Could Really Change Everything I Mean Wow. It’s not even the wondrous oratory power or the charisma or the sweet sense of deeper change overlaid with all kinds of sparkly utopian futuriffic goodness.

There is, I think, something more. Something richer. And it’s rather startling.

See, I’ve read the profiles and the liberal fawnings and the intelligent analysis, the attempted takedowns and the right-wing smears, all the valiant attempts to dig up something dirty or problematic or frightening about Obama and his family, his past, his middle name, his beliefs and his pastor and his favorite flavor of ice cream—attempts that, rather amusingly, have all failed.

I’ve read, too, the glut of wonderment, how Obama is this generation’s JFK, how he makes Hillary Clinton’s brand of retro cronyist politics feel like the equivalent of rubbing salt on a paper cut. He is, they say, that once-in-a-lifetime candidate, a fantastically rare mix of intelligence, consistency, inspiration, hope, charisma, humanity, articulation, and an almost shocking lack of manipulation and sheen (well, relatively speaking), all packaged in a strikingly handsome unit in whose closet apparently live almost no skeletons at all.

I also nodded in agreement when snark-master Jon Stewart appeared slightly stunned and taken aback and very nearly jokeless as he pointed out, following Obama’s remarkable speech on race in America, that at long last, here was a top-tier politician who dared to speak to us like we were adults. It wasn’t just refreshing; after seven-plus years of humiliating, monosyllabic dumb-guy Bushisms, it was downright jarring.

And I even enjoyed the overall assessment that the fact that Obama is untested and inexperienced in the higher and more dire realms of government is actually a good thing, just the kind of wild card we crave and need, given how he shows absolutely zero signs that he’d screw it up, not to mention how the last thing anyone really wants is more of the same old-school, inbred crap we’ve had for decades.

Still, this wasn’t what riveted me the most about Obama, still not what’s most fascinating about this moment in political history. It was still something more.

Initially I thought the most impressive aspect of Obama’s run was, well, how the guy made it this far at all. That someone of his caliber and obvious intelligence could survive what has become a truly caustic, brutal political system and still emerge into the international spotlight as, well, not deeply f—ed-up and insane, not possessing that creepy demonic gleam shared by so many politicos (hi, Sen. McCain!) that suggests they’ve had souls eaten whole by the same scabrous trolls of greed and war and corruption that birthed two Bushes and gave Bill Clinton that nearly intolerable aura of ego and slickness.

See, I’ve long believed that, if nearly eight years of the World’s Worst President has taught us anything, it’s that the American political system has moved well beyond merely deeply flawed and broken and sad, and is now wholly rotted, ruined from the inside out, a true moral wasteland barely suitable even for cockroaches and leeches and Rick Santorum. I thought George W. Bush had actually managed to do the impossible: make an already defective system truly unbearable, turning something already gray and murky to turgid and pathetic, toxic to all decent human life.

And I’m happy to report that the fact that Obama exists at this stage of the game is proving me very wrong indeed.

But I’ll even take it a step further. Because the greatest thing about Obama isn’t really about Obama at all, per se. It’s actually about, well, us.

This is the great revelation: We still got it. The collective unconscious, the deep sense of inner wisdom, that intuitive knowing that borders on a kind of mystical proficiency, where millions of people can actually look beyond rhetoric and media spin and merely feel the presence of something great in the room? Yep, still there. Who knew?

See, this is what I hear most from relatives and readers and friends and newborn activists who were never activists before: Obama speaks to the intuition. It’s about the sixth sense. It’s not just what he says or how he behaves in the debates or the policy wonking or the “Change” banners or any of the typical, tangible factors—although those have proven to be remarkably positive, too.

It’s this: People feel it. They hear an Obama speech or read the articles or talk to like-minded folk, and they squint their eyes and weigh everything and then dismiss all that surface crap and get that look on their face that says, you know what? This guy gets it. He feels right. It’s not a trick of light. It’s not complete bull. It’s not the usual spin and manipulation and fakery. There is actual meat on this bone. What a thing.

Of course, I’ve plenty of readers who are die-hard cynics and jaded anarchists who say: What the f— is wrong with you? Can’t you see it’s just another vicious ploy? All candidates at this level are essentially the same, interchangeable, all abhorrent simply by default because when you reach that stage of the game there is simply no way to avoid deep corruption and rampant lies. They tell me that even just to write a column like this is akin to merely washing the windows in your little pod in “The Matrix.” Sure, the world may seem shinier, but you’re still just buying into the same old revolting corporate/military machine.

After all, once the vipers of big money and big oil and military spending and corporate cronyism get their fangs sunk in, it’s pretty much “game over” for any candidate’s remaining integrity. Has Mr. Perfect Obama spoken out against the insidious Patriot Act or taken on the absurd farm subsidies or talked up issues of global warming? No he has not. As nice and smart as he may be, strip away all the fawning and the oratory tricks and give him a year in office and boom, just another corrupted, compromised former visionary. Right?

Whatever. I’m not buying it. At least, not yet. For the moment, I trust the collective intuition. I trust the shockingly widespread sense, not merely of hope and change, but of collective wisdom swimming though the air like an electrical surge among all the smart, creative people on the planet right now, a bolt of energy that says: Hey, we’re still together. We still got it. We’re still a force. There is life in the revolution yet.

And Obama? He gets it, too. Hell, he may have kindled it anew, all by himself. Either way, it’s back. And it’s powerful. And that, to me, is the most hopeful thing of all. 

Mark Morford is a columnist for and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also teaches yoga, subscribes to magazines, admires trees, detests shrill alarmism (including his own) and sleeps naked.

This article was originally published on May 4, 2008.