Don’t get me wrong, I love Obama. I also love Junot Diaz. And, on this one-year anniversary of Obama’s historic inauguration, I think Diaz has a very valid point.
Obama needs a narrative.
Politics, particularly in a country founded on openness and democracy, will always be two parts narrative, one part action. When you need the people’s support to stay in power, then you need a way to get the people on your side. And nothing does that better than a good story. This is even more true now, in this age of 24-hour news channels and 24/7 Twitter streams. Not to mention the Facebooks, FriendFeeds and flavor-of-the-month social networking sites. To be a part of this brave new world of interconnectedness is to be a kind of constant storyteller, providing a persistent voiceover narration for that life you so happily share with your social network.
Sure, 70% of US adults are still just spectators of this storytelling stream. But, the other 23% of us are actively, regularly and — some might say — obsessively shaping a daily story about who we are, what we do, where we go and what we think. And yes, 17% of people don’t participate at all. But I’d venture to guess those folks love a good story as much as the majority of us do. Otherwise, we’d all find better things to do with ourselves than watch American Idol — not to mention talk about it ad nauseum all the time.
There was a time when our national stories were shaped more by the media than by ourselves. When the news told us what was happening, the press secretaries told us what the politicians were thinking and the publicists carefully controlled exactly what leaked and when. That time is changing. With the rise of so-called citizen journalism, the burgeoning blogosphere and the ability to tweet a pic that ends up on CNN, the story is becoming as much – if not more – about the people at the scene as it is about what’s going on behind the scenes in the newsroom. Or in the White House briefing room, as the case may be.
I’m not saying there’s no place for the fourth estate in this brave new world. Far from it. As the daughter of two long-time, old-school journalists, I am a major proponent of the power of professional journalism and of the power of a pulpit from which the news is dispensed with a level of expected objectivity that no blogger will ever be able to match. In a world where everyone not only has an opinion, but has an outlet for those opinions, we need somebody who holds themselves accountable for reporting the news without any opinion at all. Not that all self-proclaimed journalists do that now (ahem, Fox News). But, that’s what professional journalism should be. At least in my opinion.
And that’s why Obama needs a narrative. A narrative that is about him. A narrative that comes directly from him. A narrative that is shaped by his opinions, and his opinions alone. Because if he doesn’t tell his own story, and the story of his presidency, then there are plenty of other people who are ready and willing to do it for him.
And while some of them may be objective and even, dare I say, journalistic, there are plenty of people who won’t be. Who don’t care to be. Who are just telling their own daily tales, and just so happen to be weaving Obama’s presidency into their personal narratives. And I didn’t elect them. I voted for President Barack Obama. And I’d like to hear who he is, what he’s doing, where he’s going and what he’s thinking. And I’d like to hear it from him please. Apparently, so would Junot Diaz.