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Is the Obama Presidency a Bellwether of American Ingenuity on Its Deathbed?

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So much has already been made of President Obama’s lack of substance.  It has been suggested by conservative writers that he is everything from an empty suit to an emperor with no clothes.  Perhaps he is just a man who has been told his entire life that he was special without ever being made to prove it.  If the latter is true, the conspicuous lack of detail in his agenda stems from necessity; he carefully avoids scrutiny, like the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain.  But the problems facing the United States are more substantial than simply finding a way back home to Kansas; solving them requires more than pyrotechnics and smooth baritone oratory. 

The common thread between President Obama and the causes of the American predicament is a shortage of new ideas; thus we are forced to resolve a dilemma.  Despite his liberal use of the word "change," the itinerary for Obama’s plan to change America was never unfolded for our inspection and approval and yet, voters pulled the lever.  How can we expect a majority of Americans to participate in the process of innovating when the bulk of us voted for change by proxy and without form?  How is the nation expected to redefine its place in the world when it has chosen a leader who does not have the will to define himself?

For his part, Obama may be remembered as the politician who is to American politics what Andy Warhol was to American culture — a borrower of iconic ideas and imagery, but in truth, a creator of nothing truly original; a manufacturer only of symbols.  He weaves elements of Kennedy, Reagan and both Roosevelts’ characters into the fabric of his persona, with the effect of buying unearned merit badges and stitching them onto his Boy Scout sash.  The success of his campaign, with its emphasis on an unspecific black box of genius plans, shows just how restless the electorate has become.  Were Obama to have run against a candidate with even a modest amount of inspiration, one who could communicate a clear vision for the future, we would have had to wait at least four more years to experience the catharsis of swearing in our first African-American president. 

The failure of the populace to demand more debate, more discussion, more specifics, may be the canary in the American coalmine; evidence that the marketplace of ideas is no longer functioning as needed.  If so, there are huge implications for our future, implications not confined to the intangible realm of philosophical and political debate.  Has the engine driving American prosperity for centuries, our uniquely voracious appetite for new ideas and inventions, slowed or stopped?  Patents (both applications and issuances) and copyright registrations have been flat for nearly a decade.  President Bush’s call for a national effort to land a manned mission on Mars met with the equivalent of dismissive laughter; the plans have foundered from lack of congressional support, stemming naturally from public apathy.

In our culture, popular entertainment is certainly a useful barometer of the public appetite for creativity, and we would have to conclude that the public does not have much of an appetite for new things.  Television schedules choke on a glut of “reality” programming, each show as unique as Tweedledum from Tweedledee.  For viewers who do not favor that sort of thing, hack through the strangling bramble of the CSI and Law & Order franchises, which soak up precious dollars that would otherwise be available to foster some diversity.  Even in movies and live theater, the norm is to stick with known properties and avoid taking any risks.

About Bryan Myrick

  • Dr Dreadful

    Dysm: og up[ vsm’y imfrtdysmf Fsvr smf V;sb pm yjr [jpmr, ytu ys;lomh yp ,r!

  • zingzing

    clavos: “I believe that’s the definition of a neocon, zing2″

    what is? that they were dems? i think it was that they rejected being dems. so i dunno if they ever really were.

    but they’re certainly not dems now, and are probably going to find themselves in the trashbin of history soon enough.

    and good riddance.

  • STM

    KO Doc, you’ve got me stumped on that one. Is it fair dinkum or just a random jumble of letters made to look like it’s supposed to be something you’ve actaully thougth aboouy?

  • zingzing

    stm: “aboouy”

    gawd! mangler of english! fuggin australians!

    (i know, i know.)

  • Roger Nowosielski

    But Clavos has a good point, Zing, even if he’s only halfway right. For the feeling of betrayal is a powerful motivation. There’s nothing potentially more dangerous and bond-forming than a hotbed of sweet conspiracy and the plotting of revenge. [Shakespeare]

  • Clavos


    Rii wsat.

    U qsa s xtyorifesogwe ub rgw Sent.

  • STM

    Zing, I love the word mangler. It always makes me giggle. We used to have a photo machine at work back in the good old days that would develop news film in a hurry, thus negating the need to put it through the manual dark room process right on edition time.

    The photographers knew it as either “the muncher” or “the mangler”. Many a big white hole was nearly left in the paper because of that stupid machine.

  • zingzing

    stm, i like saying it “mangla,” as in “gangsta.” but it would probably sound funny coming out of your mouth. (which, if it’s anything like those of the rest of the empire, looks funny enough.) (lalala.) (wow, i just farted and burped at the same time.) (stop.) (no.)

  • Hope and Change?

    Was it my imagination or did King Barry look a alot like Osama Bin Laden in his AAAAAAArab interview? Gee was he giving out secret commands to his worshippers??

    I was also taken back when King Barry gave the reporter “the knuckle” a secret hand shake of international terrorists!

  • Dave Nalle

    You may question the Obama neocons, but there are certainly plenty on the far left who are eager to point them out. Not always correctly, IMO. However, Dennis Ross who last I heard is likely to be a special envoy or ambassador to Iran is a Democrat who holds pretty much the same views as the neocons in foreign policy. Obama was also widely supported by neocons during the election, as detailed by pseudolibertarian Justin Raimondo.

    The term neocon gets thrown around very freely, but if you look solely at policy and allegiances rather than at history of association with the neocon movement, then Rahm Emanuel has to be considered a Neocon as does Richard Holbrooke who was appointed special envoy to Afghanistan.

    We shouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of people concluding that Obama’s bipartisanship basically comes down to welcoming selected neocons back to the Democratic party.


  • Roger Nowosielski

    I agree with you about Richard Holbrooke, Dave. Same world view.

  • Dr Dreadful


    It’s what happens when you touch-type in the dark without realising someone’s moved your chair half an inch to the right.

    Clav’s chair, conversely, seems to be moving all over the place. I didn’t think they had earthquakes in Florida…

  • Roger Nowosielski

    Addendum to #311:

    In fact, I’m prepared to add that if U.S. foreign policy will not undergo a substantial change, then the change of the guard in the White House will have been mostly one of style.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Hopeless & Unchangeable,

    I know you don’t want to miss drawing our attention to a single one of the new President’s blunders, so I think it only a kindness to point out that you omitted to mention that he missed a spot shaving this morning.

    It’s the end of civilization as we know it.

  • STM

    Lol. Mangla. That’s how we say it anyway, zing. As you know, we don’t pronounce all our “r”s down this neck of the woods.

    AKA non-rhotic, as opposed to the American rhotic accent.

    For us, when followed by a vowel, a post-alveolar continuant; otherwise silent.

    Ie, pronounced in red, but silent in mangla.

    In most of America, the R is a retroflex continuant when not preceded by a vowel – except in Boston and some places in the south.

    Listen to a Bostonion say words like car and beer – they pronounce it exactly the same as us.

    That’s the mix in near equal parts of Irish and English accents. In Boston, the Irish won out over the obvious English west-country origins of the American accent, but only just, and here the English accent of convict cockneys won out over the Irish accent, but only just.

    The same phenomenon can be witnessed in New Zealand and Canada, except that the celtic component most obvious in those two places is Scottish, rather than Irish.

    Hence both countries’ regular use of the word “Eh?” at the end of a sentence.

    And why a Canadian accent is slightly different to an American, and a New Zealand accent slightly different to an Australia.

    The South African English accent however is totally different – it owes much of its front-of-mouth sound to Dutch.

    It’s a great language we share though, eh?

  • Dr Dreadful

    I’ve heard two distinct South African English accents. (Well, strictly speaking there are at least three, but I assume we’re talking primarily about white South Africans here.)

    The accent of those whose first language is Afrikaans or who are from an Afrikaner background is quite different from the accent of English-speaking South Africans.

    The latter sounds to me a lot more akin to Australian and New Zealand English.

  • STM

    Cool Doc, I’m just about to get ready for work (after dropping my daughter at the hairdresser’s in readiness for her return to school tomorrow for first term of Year 8 – nothing appears more important this morning than the hair), so when I get there, I’ll have hours of fun trying to decipher those. So Clav has moved either side of the right letters, right?

    Maybe it was the cat stepping on the keyboard.

  • Cindy D

    I she getting a perm?

    I wondat lurnley as a clood…

  • STM

    Totally different way of speaking Doc, although the accent is the same – but with much harder sounds when spoken by an Afrikaner whose first language is Afrikaans.

    Anglo South Africans have a softer accent, although it’s all starting to get mixed in now.

    Either way, it’s unmistakeable.

    I used to wonder whether in 500 years we’d all be incomprehensible to each other, but I think the accents are all actually moving closer together.

    Young people in this country have a homogeneous kind of mid-Pacific accent they share with young Americans and New Zealanders, and young Brits, Irish and Americans now have a mid-Atlantic accent. They still sound different, but the way they structure conversations is the same. Interesting stuff, how it’s evolved that way in the age of global mass communication.

    I found it strange in the Philippines listening to people speaking English as a second language almost with American accents. Bizarre, that.

  • Clavos

    Stan, Doc,

    There’s a pattern.

    Hint: I was a cryptographer in the Army.

  • zingzing

    “Dysm: og up[ vsm'y imfrtdysmf Fsvr smf V;sb pm yjr [jpmr, ytu ys;lomh yp ,r!"

    stan: if you can't understand da[v]e and clav on the phone, try talking to me!

  • Cindy D

    Dr.D what is that accent you had, you know before you took on the James Bond one?

  • zingzing

    doc, tiy xiyks nJW Heswe vt bir xEUBF viyr xwerUB RGUBFA,

    askimet sucks. thinks this is spam. it’s code, i tell you! code!

  • STM

    Cindy: “Is she getting a perm?”

    Nah, the full wallet-emptying $300 trendy cut and colour. She always picks the most expensive place too.

    Well trained by her mother, I suspect.

    If I don’t agree to cough up, for haircuts or new clothes, it’s a drama of 90210 proportions.

    Or as her mum says, a “a girl’s got to have a decent hairdo”.

    Thankfully, my son didn’t care about any of that stuff and wore T-shirts and Levis and he’d spend an hour trying to make his hair look like he hadn’t done anything to it, although I must say the lawyer’s bills more than made up for it and started to get a bit on the nose when he was about 16 or 17.

    Lucky for him they go easy on kids a bit here, as he was a bit wild to say the least.

    He starts university next month. That’s a minor miracle, truly – although I keep asking to make sure he knows when orientation day is as he’s still not the nation’s most responsible young man, although much better.

  • Cindy D

    Well Stan in that case consider that wordsworth one I posted, all hers.

  • Cindy D

    …he’d spend an hour trying to make his hair look like he hadn’t done anything to it…


  • Dave Nalle

    mpe yjsy od pmr [to,oybr=sdd dindyiyopm vpfr. xomh/


  • Cindy D

    lol zing it’s prolly code fo xanax

  • STM

    Clav: “Six”

    OK, guys, I’ve worked it out. So has our mate Fsbr

    Yours faithfully, Dysm

    (gee, we love our little bits of fun here, don’t we :)

  • zingzing

    mi ew fimr.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I’m getting the spam thing too. I think Akismet’s getting paranoid. Let’s see how else we can mess with its head!

  • Bliffle

    American ingenuity isn’t dead! After all, we invented the spork.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Which James Bond accent, Cindy? The Scottish one, the Australian one, the two English ones, the Irish one or the other English one? There hasn’t been a Welsh James Bond yet, which is a travesty for such a British icon. When Daniel Craig’s had enough I reckon they should let Rhys Ifans have a go.

  • STM

    Come on Doc, Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower in the Hornblower series and William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace) would be way better than Ifans.

    But if you want a Bond that looks like he enjoys a Friday night pint and punch-up, Ifans would be perfect.

  • STM

    Bliff, I’ve never seen the spork Down Under, but we do have some splades in the kitchen drawer (cross between fork, spoon and knife). Any relation?

  • STM

    Also, Wikipedia claims the spork is a British invention … first manufactured by the Folgate Silver Plate Company of England, which came up with one sometime between 1875 and 1900.

    Obviously, though, British and US patent laws didn’t extend in those days beyond each other’s jurisdictions.

    I’m also thinking maybe the Poms should let the US claim this one as an American invention.

    Australia invented the Hills hoist rotary clothes line, which for the first time allowed the user to raise and lower the line – our great gift to the civilised world.

    America has the Smithsoinian, we have the National Museum … which features a Hills Hoist. Lol.

  • bliffle

    Well, maybe it’s true. Maybe American ingenuity is on it’s death bed. Oh well.

  • Cindy D


    I guess I haven’t watched James Bond in a while. I’ll go with the one from my childhood, Roger Moore.

    And Dr.D, please tell me what that accent is. I hate when I can’t remember something. Usually I stick a few words in google. (google has become half my memory). But, I can’t find it.

    Ah! Jordy?

  • STM

    Geordie …

  • Dr Dreadful

    Cindy, I’m not sure if you’re talking about my accent (am I on YouTube somewhere? If so, I can’t think where, when or how!) or Roger Moore’s.

    Moore’s is drama school-trained standard English. Sean Connery – the definitive Bond for most die-hard 007 afficionados – is supposedly from Edinburgh, but his ‘Scottish’ accent is unlike any I’ve ever heard a Scot use.

    Mine is a bit of a chameleon: it tends to change a bit depending on who I’m talking to. For the most part these days it’s English with a mild California twang. When I go back home the American element disappears fairly quickly. And I’ve caught myself sounding slightly Australian more than once during my visits Down Under.

    I’m half Geordie (My Dad grew up on Tyneside) but you wouldn’t know it except that I’m a fan of the Toon and enjoy Newcastle Brown Ale. Why aye man!

  • Cindy D


    yeah I know about your geordie accent, as we’ve had this conversation in the past. but you said you don’t use it. as far as james bond, it was a guess. some british friends told me that’s not a real accent he has, no one talks like that. so i figured if you changed yours…well…maybe you all learn to talk like james bond lol

  • STM

    Doc: “And I’ve caught myself sounding slightly Australian more than once during my visits Down Under”.

    Must be genetic. You don’t have any convicts in your family, do you Doc??

  • Dr Dreadful

    No, Stan, all squeaky clean as far as I know.

    Maybe we were the guards…!