The Magazine

Staggering Idiocy

Panicky progressives struggle for reasons to support Obama.

Oct 22, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 06 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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A website called went online this summer, after the writer Dave Eggers got worried about the diminishing enthusiasm for Barack Obama among people like him. Eggers is a hipster, I guess you’d call him. He lives in San Francisco. He’s best known as the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a long, funny, clever, and annoying memoir, which was published, like Barack Obama’s less funny and less annoying memoir, when its author was scarcely pushing 30. Kids grow up so quickly these days. The memoir’s immense commercial success, along with the popularity of a magazine he edits, led the New York Times to call Eggers “the magnetic center of a literary counterestablishment.”

Panicky progressives

Gary Locke

Normally when the Times calls a fellow a magnetic center of a counterestablishment, you’ll find him cuddling snoozily in the lap of the Times or some other establishment enterprise, a plump purring pussycat, defanged and declawed. Even so, on Eggers’s pro-Obama website, glimmers of independent thinking flash here and there. For one thing, several contributors aren’t very pro-Obama. 

“Has he failed?” asks one, who lives in New York. “Sure he has.”

“There’s no whitewashing the fact that his presidency hasn’t been a green one,” writes another, who also lives in New York. 

Still another, an Indian, who lives in Seattle, writes: “I tried to think of one great thing Obama has done for Indians. And I couldn’t think of one damn thing.”

Eggers himself acknowledged the problem in the website’s manifesto, called “The Opening Salvo.” The ambivalence among “progressives” is what drove him to start the website in August. 

“We are three months away from the presidential election,” he wrote, “and there is a stunning lack of energy displayed by likely Obama voters.” His solution: Each day, for the 90 days before the election, a different contributor—a writer, a singer, an artist, an activist, all members in good standing of the counterestablishment—would write an essay offering a pithy reason why Obama should be reelected. “Obama cares about women’s health.” “Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” “President Obama Supports Women’s Right to Choose.” “Obama is on the right side of land use and transportation policy.” Some reasons are pithier than others.

The essays themselves show all the magic of political discourse in the Internet age—the freewheeling energy, the unconventional lines of argument, the damn-the-torpedoes prose—which is another way of saying that Eggers really needs to hire a copy editor. Some sentences you can read several times without success. “Millions of progressive Americans,” Eggers writes, “are now behaving as if, because Obama hasn’t addressed their particular pet issue, that the best way to express their dissatisfaction is to allow Mitt Romney to become president.”

“Corporations,” notes the writer John Sayles (Dutchess County, New York) in Reason 49, “have been anointed responsibility by the Supreme Court as both eligible of public subsidy and free of, and, like all large and unrestrained creatures, act only in their own self-interest.”

Typos abound, along with grammatical mistakes, but grammar and punctuation et cetera et cetera et cetera are far less important than the proper phraseology. A Reasoner will never call himself a liberal, for example, if he can use progressive instead. Keeping up with the lingo is an important signal that progressives send to one another to certify their own progressivity. That’s why global warming is now climate change; using the former in place of the latter proves you’re a laggard. On 90reasons, the right to an abortion is now women’s health, and gay marriage is now marriage equality, just as Indians who became Native Americans a generation ago are now most often just Indians again. Keeps you on your toes.

Gay marriage—wait!—marriage equality was the first reason cited on the website’s first day by the first Reasoner, a man named Ben Gibbard, who is identified as the lead singer of a band called Death Cab for Cutie. He’s from Seattle. Four long days would pass on the website, four more reasons would be offered, before the right of gays to marry each other was again cited by a Reasoner as a reason to vote for Obama. Marriage equality came up again a week later, in an essay by an actor from New York, and then the next day too, by a songwriter in New York, and then four days later, by a Reasoner from Brooklyn, and so on, at irregular but very brief intervals. As I write, however, it’s been more than 10 days since a Reasoner mentioned marriage equality. I don’t know what’s going on.

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