"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling," Oscar Wilde once remarked.
Irving Kristol took Wilde's observation and ran with it. "The amateur's feelings are sincere enough -- why else should he be writing poetry? -- but he takes the writing of poetry to be more important than the poem itself," . . ."For him, writing poetry is a kind of symbolic action, in which he liberates his most earnest sentiments, and it is in this impatient action and in this instant liberation that he seeks fulfillment.". .
"It seems to me," Kristol wrote, "that the politics of liberal reform, in recent years, shows many of the same characteristics as amateur poetry. It has been more concerned with the kind of symbolic action that gratifies the passions of the reformer than with the efficacy of the reforms themselves.". .
For Kristol, the "outstanding characteristic" of the New Politics was its "insistence on the overwhelming importance of revealing, in the public realm, one's intense feelings -- we must 'care,' we must 'be concerned,' we must be 'committed.' Unsurprisingly, this goes along with an immense indifference to consequences.". .
One thing was clear about Obama's candidacy: It was all about the poetry of "genuine feeling." He may have been cool and aloof, but supporting him was a statement of passion, of self-image. He made supporters feel good about themselves. "We are the ones we've been waiting for," he said. "We are the change that we seek."
Obama insisted that his rhetoric wasn't "just words" but something greater, more profound -- certainly not the "bad poetry" that Wilde and Kristol attacked. But it was hard to find the substance. "What's troubling about the campaign," warned liberal historian Sean Wilentz, "is that it's gone beyond hope and change to redemption."
Obama's feelings are sincere and genuine, as Wilde and Kristol would say. But we are at the point at which the gifted poet must distinguish himself from the amateur. Is the poetry a means to an actual end? Or is it all there is?