In the wake of an historic election, The 1585 asks:

What is it to be…
Something Else But Mad?



“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing…
after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

“I think I’m dumb, or maybe just happy.”


So, I don’t know whether you heard, but Barack Obama won.  And at the risk of upsetting certain segments of my audience, I’m going to go ahead and rephrase that now as “we won.”

Yes, there is still a “15” in 1585, but it never had much to do with party politics.  As I, in a recent Reader Mail response, reminded a young reader who found 1585’s support of Obama too vociferous, I have never made a secret of the fact that I tend to vote for Democrats.  My criticisms of liberalism tend to concern themselves with mopiness, chronic resentment, new-ageism, and campus P.C., and none of these had the slightest thing to do with Obama’s campaign, or indeed with the Democratic party in general.  I endorsed Mr. Obama, I voted for him (jeez, even William F. Buckley’s kid did that), and I'm glad he won.  But any concerns that The 1585 will now become a vehicle for Democratic talking points are unfounded.  I'm as anxious as you are for me to get back to making fun of Noah’s Ark and shit I tear out of Cosmo.

But this election was an especially significant one for smart people.  There have, of course, been “especially significant elections for smart people” in American history before…

...but this time the smart people won.  And since The 1585 is most primarily concerned with the place and reputation of smart people in American society, I thought I'd join the rest of the punditsphere in talking about what this election means.   

Does it mean that the majority of Americans now want the federal government to force all 50 states to legalize gay marriage?  No.  (Neither does Obama, by the way.)

Does it mean that the majority of Americans now support Scandinavian-style socialized medicine?  No.  (Neither does Obama, by the way.)

Does it mean that the majority of Americans want to ban all handguns?  No.  (Neither does Obama, by the way.)

The election of Barack Obama is not a swerve to the Far Left (one might suspect that this has something to do with the fact that Mr. Obama is, in fact, not Far Left).  What it is, is something more necessary, more beautiful, and more overdue.

It is a resounding repudiation of the Far Right.  The very worst elements of this nation — enveloping the McCain campaign in their foetor to such an extent that I often secretly felt sorry for the man — threw everything they had at Obama, and failed, failed utterly.  They screamed themselves hoarse that Mr. Obama was a socialist — a Muslim — a werewolf — and for once, for once, no-one cared.  The echo that came back to them from a clear majority of Americans, even in some states where a Democrat had not won since “Baby Love” was at the top of the charts, was simply:  You’re crazy.  Not “traditional.”  Not “mainstream.”  Not “real Americans.”  Not “plain-dealing practitioners of good old-fashioned common sense.”  Crazy.

This made me happy.  It makes me happy when regular people realize that crazy people are crazy.  Such a simple thing, but how infrequently it happens!

In fact, I was even still happy the next day.

And that’s when it started to feel weird.  Probably for a lot of you too.  And that’s what this essay is about.

As we have all already been reminded — probably just as frequently by a certain type of our fellow Liberals as by Conservatives — things are not necessarily going to be “perfect now, or something.”

Fine.  We know.  But things don’t have to be perfect in order for us to smile.  They just have to be… well, good enough to smile about.  And they clearly are.  But when I woke up on Wednesday the 5th to go hungoverly about my business, I felt something I did not expect to feel.

I was embarrassed.  I was embarrassed to be seen smiling.

Oh, sure, I was psyched about smiling in the faces of Conservatives, when and if I happened to run into some of them.  But there is a difference between gloating and just being happy.  And I realized that I had been so looking forward to doing the first thing, that I hadn’t devoted any time to remembering how to do the second.

And then I realized that, apparently, the second is something that I need to remember how to do.  Weird.   

Sure, I’ve been happy in my life, about this or that.  But happy about, you know, “the way things are going?”  About the president?!  The thing about smart people is, many of us simply have no idea how to go about liking the president.  Or, considering the shape of the Congress as well, not just the president but — good gravy! — the government.  Honestly bloody liking the whole fucking government (except the Supreme Court, for the immediate future anyway).

Sure, most of us can remember a few presidents we were glad were president.  But that’s not the same thing.  As a friend of mine put it, with Bill Clinton, you got the sense that he was “a gangster who just happened to be on our side.”  But Obama is actually a good person.

The president-elect is a fucking good person.  Like I would look up to him and want to grow up to be like him if I were a kid and he were my teacher and shit.  Jesus, I feel that way about him now, and I’m thirty.

And this, as I’ve already explained, and as a lot of you have probably already realized on your own, is… well, embarrassing.  And not only embarrassing, but disorienting on a profoundly personal level.  From genius poets to cool rock stars to hip stand-ups, the simple fact of hating the government has been how we tell who the smart people are for so long that I just straight-up do not know how to walk out of my door in the morning doing something else.  And for fuck’s sake, what about holidays?  How will I demonstrate to my relatives that I am an Artist whereas they are full of shit?  By fighting with them about music or something?  But I’m a grown-up!  I don’t want to fight about music anymore!

For some poor, confused intellectuals — and maybe you’re one of these people, or have a close friend who is — the course of action was so immediate it seemed autonomic, uncontrollable:  they began trying to find stuff not to like about Obama.  This may seem like an odd reaction to his victory on the part of someone who spent the previous two years screaming about how much they loved him, but you have to understand, it was that or face the prospect of liking the government — and for many smart people, that’s like asking them to place their hand on a hot stove and hold it there:  No matter how hard you try, you simply can’t let yourself. 

And after honestly a lifetime of never feeling allowed to — much less wanting to — extend to anyone any higher praise than “he’s not as bad as the other guy,” this is understandable.  I have one friend who, before the election-night celebrations were even over, began poring over speeches, voting history, lists of possible cabinet or staff members, anything, all for any indication that Obama will turn out to be a disappointment, just so he could be first on the scene with a Let’s-Not-Start-Sucking-Each-Other’s-Dicks-Just-Yet e-mail in the morning.

I’m not saying it’s ridiculous to entertain the notion that Obama will ever make a mistake.  Of course he will.  The man is human.  But it is ridiculous to decide, before he even takes office, that we shouldn’t even bother being happy.  By all indications, Obama is the most Liberal president since LBJ, maybe even FDR.  And the Democrats are in a better position than any party has been in for a half-century.

All those times when we’d be in the car and “Karma Police” would come on and it would get to the this is what you get when you mess with us part and we would fantasize about how great it would be if people actually got it when they messed with us, and here we are at a loss for how to take it upon seeing with our own eyes the very people that we wanted to get it for messing with us actually getting it as a result of having messed with us.  That actually happened, and we’re searching our asses off for a problem.

Smart people are good at many things, but apparently, one thing we are not so good at is allowing ourselves to shut the fuck up and enjoy winning.

Different methods of achieving this mindset are going to work for different people, so try to find one that works for you.  Those who are especially unused to being happy may find it beneficial to ease themselves into it by making heavy use of irony, so that the happiness takes on an absurdist quality at first.  Your psyche will think that you are merely making fun of being happy, so its defenses will be lowered.  Speaking for myself, I have found it particularly beneficial — having noticed some time ago that it’s fun to say Barack Obama’s name in a James Mason impression — to repeat the phrase “Barack Obama… I’m happy because of Barack Obama” over and over in a James Mason voice.

Go ahead, try it.  But you have to say it like James Mason, or it won’t work.    

Anyway, could it end up all going down the shitter somehow?  Sure.  Just like I could be trampled by zebras tomorrow.  But that doesn’t mean that betting on it makes you smarter than everyone else.  So far, our only problem is that we apparently need to have a problem.           

Well, no problem, because here’s the problem:  We need to find a way to like the government and be smart people at the same time.  We need to become smart people who smile.

Now, this shouldn’t be all that difficult.  We are, after all, supposed to be the ones who are smiling.  Look at any truthful depiction of the varied players in the human game, and you will find that the bad guys are the ones who are supposed to have smiling issues.  In Act II, scene v of Twelfth Night, Maria’s forged mash riddle to the persnickety puritan steward Malvolio pointedly instructs him to smile — this, as the lively drunkards at the center of the comic subplot knew, would be the most uncharacteristic thing a guy like Malvolio could possibly walk around doing.  So uncharacteristic, in fact, that it goes a long way towards convincing the characters who are not in on the joke that he has lost his mind.

And Malvolio is, I think it fair to say, the single most exact caricature of a contemporary Republican to be found in all of Shakespeare (at least, one of the “values voter” stripe; throw in the Rove-style insider strategists, and you’ve got Henry VIII’s Cardinal Wolsey, the coldly manipulative Ulysses of Troilus and Cressida, and of course Iago, to say nothing of a handful of generically and inexplicably maleficent “bastards” of the early plays — but none of these has any trouble smiling since, as Hamlet observes of his uncle, if you don’t swallow your own bullshit, it ain’t no thing to “smile and be a villain.”).

So how did the puritans end up copyrighting the common man?  (How very at-home “Joe the Plumber” would seem in a roll call of the Dream’s rude mechanicals:  Bottom the Weaver, Snug the Joiner, et al.)  Well, as England found out some three decades after Shakespeare’s death, when it became a republic for about fifteen minutes, there is — sadly — more of the puritan in the common man than you’d expect.  Eventually, of course, he tires of wearing all black and begins to miss being allowed to watch plays, but he’s easy to rile up, especially when there are sexy elitists who need hatin’.  But no matter how good he may be at getting  ̉οι πολλοί marching to his drum now and again, the puritan is at last always the enemy of the common man, because it is the puritan who hates human nature itself.

So if we’re the natural enemies of the puritan, why are we so terrified by the prospect of commerce and sympathy with the masses we supposedly yearn to free from his influence?  And be assured it is this fear that explains my — and maybe your — aversion to smiling.  Smiling is what lots of people do.  It is what people do in large groups, when all of them feel the same.  All of them.  The same.  The same as all of them. 

I am, please understand, overjoyed that Obama won.  I have spent the last week bursting, with no warning whatsoever, into floods of tears, often in mid-sentence — it’s like September 11th, but backwards — and proud beyond measure that he won in such an undeniable rout.  Finally, I thought, most people agree with me.  And it felt great.

But the corollary is that I agree with most people… and I am not sure how great I feel about that.  If I walk around smiling, it means I feel the same as…  What?  People who care about sports?  People who didn’t go to college?  People who believe in ghosts?  People who don’t even necessarily own all three seasons of Arrested Development on DVD?

Why am I even alive, if I feel the same as these people?  What is the point of me?  Sure, it’s not the case that there are no shitheads left in the whole country anymore — hell, only 7% more people voted for Obama than McCain, after all — but it is clearly no longer the case that everyone but me is a shithead.   

And that is what comes after the joy of victory.  The morning when, like a soldier whose conscious mind is glad the war is over but who has long since forgotten how to be anything other than a soldier, you wake up to the world and ask it:  What do you need me for?     

For the last eight years, my answer to that question has been “to hate Bush.”  And very soon, it will not be.  I will have to find something else to live for.  And quietly, all too quietly, with legitimately a stunned silence, like when you’ve been running all over the house looking for something and suddenly find yourself looking dumbstruck downwards and wondering how the hell long you’ve had it in your hand, the answer came to me, in three little words that, deep down, I suppose I always knew.

Rubbing.  It.  In.

You see, smiling doesn’t have to mean that you are the same as everyone.  It can just mean that you are the same as a majority.  That doesn’t dawn on us right away, because we are so used to being part of a defensive, resentful minority.  But now, we need to learn to enjoy being part of a majority.

A loud, belligerent, bullying majority, only too eager to exact restitution for the last eight years from anyone who looks at us funny.

Make them feel like someone will start fucking with them if they don’t hunch over and stare at the ground when they walk.  Call them traitors.  Tell them to “go back to” someplace they’re not even actually from.

Make them feel self-conscious about flying and saluting our flag.

 "...and a HELL OF A LOT OF STARS!"
Hi, I’m the American Flag.  I belong to Liberals now.
If you have a problem with this, allow me to make the
following suggestions: “Lick my balls.”  That is all.

I would like the next election to feature an advertisement where an elderly couple suggests that “[Republican candidate] should take his surplus-wasting, moonshine-swilling, Guns & Ammo-reading, Hollywood-blaming, right-wing freak show back to Oklahoma, where it belongs,” and have this ad resonate with the average television viewer on a deep psychological level.

I am especially excited by the prospect of the word Conservative becoming synonymous with the word freak.  No, wait, traitor!  No, freak!  Aw, shucks, I can’t decide.  Which one do you think would make more of them commit suicide?

Because if that’s our goal, we should press it now, while they’re still frighteningly emotionally unstable.  Seriously, I realize it has been 70 years since they were on the receiving end of a landslide that didn’t consist of post-assassination sympathy votes, but still, they are taking it badly, even for them.  After trying and failing to come up with a negative thing to say about Obama that has the slightest fucking commerce with reality, the right seems to have settled upon “Fuck it, let’s just start screaming that he is ‘exactly the same as Hitler’ and see if that does anything.”

Is it at all a priority for Conservatives to say shit that has any basis in fact anymore?  Oh, well. I guess it is kind of funny that there is a congressman who apparently thinks Hitler was a Marxist.

You know what else is funny?  How fucked they are.  What are they gonna do — Palin in 2012?  Fine.  The GOP is now in a position where their most prominent person under a million years old is a lunatic, so the more exposure they give her, the better.  They are hemorrhaging moderates.  At this point, it is looking damn near impossible for them to sustain their always-volatile coalition of religious mentalcases and jetsetting business assholes.  The Far Right is pissed that the McCain campaign wasn’t even dirtier.  I don't want to jinx it, but things are looking good for the dream scenario of evangelicals forming a bona fide third party, which would instantly send the GOP on the national level the way of the Whigs and the Know-Nothings.  The next generation of Romneys will have to become fiscally conservative Democrats, drawing that party just far enough to the right to make room for the national viability of the Green Party, while what used to be the Republicans have changed their name to the Jesus Ninjas and are whooping it up about running the table at school-board elections in Idaho.  They will become solely a regional party, relegated to states no-one gives a shit about, and then they’ll finally be able to build one of those giant fences they have such a boner for — around themselves.

But don’t worry, Conservatives.  I’m sure, at some point, President Obama will actually do something in real life that you can disagree with, and you will be able to criticize him for that.  And when this happens, please know ahead of time that I am very much looking forward to screaming at you about how you “hate America,” just as you were kind enough to do whenever I voiced my disagreement with the policies of the previous president. 

Eventually, maybe President Obama will even deem it necessary to involve some portion of the American military in an engagement that you deem unnecessary or unwise, and you may choose to say so out loud.  This, naturally, will be my cue to start referring to President Obama exclusively as the “Commander-in-Chief,” shrieking that you are trying to “bring him down,” and accusing you of wanting American soldiers to die.

Should assembled onlookers begin to spit on you at this point, please be advised that this is “what you get for hating America.”

But what am I saying?  I don’t need to tell you that.  It was your idea.

Of course, I probably won’t actually do that.  None of us will.  It might be fun for a few minutes, but ultimately unsatisfying — like eating a whole bag of candy in lieu of a real meal.  No matter how much we might think we’d enjoy screaming at you, at the end of the day we like proving you wrong even better than screaming at you.  We realize you don’t feel the same way… but that’s just because you can’t prove us wrong.

And now we’re the majority, and not wrong.

So, you did do it to us first, but we probably won’t do it back.  For the same reason you don’t punch back a five-year old as hard as you can, even if the five-year old punched you as hard as he could first.

That would just be cruel.

Especially if the five-year old has some terminal disease, and is only lashing out because he knows he’s dying. 

Of course, that’s not in the bag yet.  It’s one thing to win a majority, and another to keep it.  One thing to win when everyone is broke, and another to hold onto them even after they’re not broke anymore and potentially free to once again lose their shit over gay dudes, sexy teens, Eminem, and people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

And in order to hold them, we, as smart people, are going to have to get used to being part of them.  Used to being normal.  To presenting ourselves simply as Americans, rather than as the American Resistance.  And yes, we are going to have to stop being embarrassed to smile.  It may feel weird at first, but we have to keep at it, because a majority of people are not going to want to be like us anymore if we don’t.  And a majority of people wanting to be like us is what we said we wanted.

Right, Left?

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