LOST in the White House

Last week, millions of Americans watched, with great anticipation, the series finale of LOST. I wasn’t one of them. One season ( the second) convinced me that the title referred to the show’s writers.

What I found more interesting than the series itself are the myriad reactions to its finale: Depending on the speaker, it explained nothing or everything, and even those who believe it offered a resolution differ widely on their interpretation. Apparently, the writers achieved the ultimate in post-modern fiction: It means whatever you want it to mean—including nothing at all.

Regardless of whether you believe the writers were lost, cynically serving up a commercial emperor with no clothes, or improvising a writerly jazz of philosophical improv that wandered aimlessly through six seasons, throwing out questions, repeating motifs, hinting at ultimate meaning, yet existing for no reason other than to ask questions, it really doesn’t matter. This was television, after all. It’s not as though it could change the landscape of America or the world.

Would that the same could be said of its real-life reflection, the Obama campaign and presidency.

It is LOST’s intentional ambiguity that reminds me of Obama. Like the show’s writers, Obama convinced millions to follow along as he spun a charismatic tale which fed their hopes, while withholding enough real information about himself to remained a blank canvas on which his followers could project whatever they liked.

Millions did just that: He blew rhetorical smoke laced with the buzz words and catchphrases of the post-modern university, and the press swooned in the haze of scholastic nostalgia.

The flower children of yesteryear and their naive young adult offspring joined in a generational reenactment of a 60s love fest: Hope, change and peace, man. The socialist utopia that the elder generation failed deliver was again within their grasp, and its psychedelic colors now included a lovely shade of ecological green.

And the middle? That jello of American politics saw a post-partisan, post-racial outsider who would Get Things Done. What things didn’t matter so much, so long as they were done and done without all that nasty political noise.

They all saw what they wanted to believe, and they voted for it.

How many wish they could retract that vote, we may not know for some time to come. Yes, November cometh, and that right soon, but while many are beginning to question the wisdom of their last vote for president, poll after poll reveals that they are not particularly disposed toward Republicans. They may not like the direction of the Obama tide, but it doesn’t mean that they trust the life preserver tossed out by a party which spent like drunken sailors when they held the purse strings, either.

That presents a crucial problem of generating enough enthusiasm to assure high conservative turnout. The left will have its own problems on that score, but they do have the win on health care and the promise of more of the same to dangle in front of voters.

Clinton and Obama promised Democratic lawmakers that once health care passed, voters would reconcile themselves to it and Democratic fortunes would rise. They were wrong and right. According to Rasmussen, a fairly large majority of voters would like to see it repealed, but at the same time, its popularity has risen among Democratic voters. Democrats have something to fight for, while Republicans offer something to fight against. Historically, being against something without a positive plan has not augured well.

On the other hand, the emperor’s state of undress has finally become apparent to many. Even the press has begun to notice that its love is unrequited, that the administration loves only the reflection in its own magic mirror and prefers to control that carefully crafted image through its web site, friendly bloggers and social media. Like most jilted lovers, the press isn’t quite ready to believe in the callousness of its beloved yet: They whine about access to family outings in Hawaii while steadfastly ignoring the polar bears of a shaky economy, high unemployment and failing foreign policy that stalk the President’s tropical paradise.

For the press, it is but a crack in their reality; for many voters, the illusion shattered completely with the passage of the health care bill. Whether that will translate to a Republican sweep in November is questionable, but if the polar bears continue to multiply, perhaps it will result in the cancellation of the Obama show in 2012.