Barack Obama's historic election as president caps an unprecedented campaign that broke through racial and socioeconomic barriers and has changed America forever. His victory will fuel the self-esteem and hopes of many millions - not only minorities, but all those who yearn for the kind of interconnectedness that can only be achieved when each of us is judged for his or her inherent potential, not prejudged by prejudice of any kind. Obama's victory also comes at a time when truth and reality are under assault on many fronts. Americans are suffering the fallout of economic fictions that took hold of the mortgage and banking and financial management industries, much as they once distorted the valuations of Internet companies. The Internet itself and other technologies-like instant messaging-are cleaving us from the human nuances of face-to-face and even voice-to-voice communication. We are using prescribed medications at ever-increasing rates to quiet our unwieldy anxiety and mood swings and insomnia and distractibility. Illicit drug use is up, transporting increasing numbers of young people away from the facts of their lives, toward illusion. We are trading off insight for more and more potent doses of entertainment-obsessively tracking the chaotic (and often staged) lives of celebrities-rather than dealing with the real complications of our own lives. And we are editing our life stories into made-for-the-Web "profiles" that require that we become editors and broadcasters of who we are.
Many times over the past two years, I worried that the presidential election, too, had been captured by a desire to escape our pressing realities and entertain ourselves. The protracted length of the campaign, the vast amounts of money spent on advertising and even the convergence on the world stage of high drama candidates-including (but not limited to) a former president's wife (and U.S. Senator), a black man born to parents from Kansas and Kenya and a little-known, plainspoken female governor from Alaska-made the election feel like the kind of battle a television producer or screenwriter would contrive.
Barack Obama's eloquence moved people-for real. But his good looks and youth and facility with language also created a kind of dream state of devotion in listeners, the way a movie star can. He captivated a large percentage of American voters not only with his ideas, but with his delivery of those ideas. The message and the messenger and the media through which both flowed became one very potent force.
It is unfortunate that Sarah Palin looks so much like Tina Fey, if only because that contributed to the entertainment value of the election. It is unfortunate that Barack Obama had nearly unlimited funds to script his message and ended with a closing volley of 30-minute television portraits that some criticized as "infomercials." It is unfortunate that Joe the Plumber was anointed a political force, when his moniker sounds more like one that would work for a spokesperson in an ad campaign for something to unclog your pipes. And, going back further, it is troubling (but only as regards our confusion between fictional drama and our real lives) that Fred Thompson, a former U.S. Senator turned actor (he played a prosecutor on TV), was center stage in the Presidential race for a time.
There is indeed something about this moment in time that feels a little like watching a made-for-TV-movie or feature film of this moment. And that sort of psychological confusion-if anything but very temporary-could spell trouble. It does indeed invite (as vice president-elect Joe Biden noted) "tests" of character from those who question to what extent our leaders are genuine and courageous and grounded, and to what extent they are acting the part.
Dealing with Russia's belligerence and Iran's destabilizing agenda and the economic crisis are only some of the challenges that will move this American President from leading man, in the eyes of many, to proven international leader. That journey is about to begin. Success holds the promise of transporting the country and the world closer to the truth and justice and, ultimately, to greater strength and stability. Failure could cost all of us dearly.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's website firstname.lastname@example.org .
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team.