Only a few hours after the election was called for Barack Obama, his supporters (and advisors) began speaking about the moments when the result "sank in" -- when it stopped feeling like some beautiful dream and solidified into reality. For me, and I suspect for others, watching Obama on television and online -- that first press conference, the inaugural YouTube address, the 60 Minutes interview -- went a long way toward normalizing an extraordinary event. But those milestones didn't quite drive the point home. A month after the election, there's still an overwhelming sense of novelty when I flip a channel and see Obama at a news conference. I still think to myself, "Wow, that guy is gonna be president!" the way I did, in an altogether different mood, when Bush ascended to power after 2000's recount.
Soon, of course, we all became somewhat inured to Bush's garbled sentences and fuzzy ideas; they became less shocking over time, though no less offensive. And many people, myself included, just tuned him out as much as possible, lest we stab ourselves in the eye with a dull fork. That won't happen in the case of Obama. But when will his speeches and statements start to sound, at least, routine? When will his words begin to sound like white noise, the way other presidents' have? Will the newness and strangeness of the whole thing ever wear off?
There's an excellent scene in the movie Sideways where Miles, the hero, sneaks into a waitress's house to recover a wallet his philandering friend left behind. Tiptoeing into her bedroom, Miles stumbles upon the woman and her husband, who are going at it with such passion that they don't notice him standing in the doorway. He quickly spots the missing article on a dresser next to a small television. And in a hilarious bit of absurdity, the television displays Bush and Donald Rumsfeld chatting at a news conference.
That moment is a comic reminder of the president's ubiquity. He's the one person that anyone who pays attention to world events expects to hear about on a daily basis, the only figure whose mere comings and goings are reported as important news. If you pay attention to the media at all, it's unavoidable to see the president's face, see him shaking hands with anonymous distinguished-looking gentlemen and ladies, and hear him opine, however inarticulately, on the issues of the day. The president can even be there, as Sideways reminds us, during intimate moments. It's no wonder that, after a while, one tends to tune out what he is saying.
So far no one has tuned Obama out (granted, he's not the president yet, but he's sure acting like one). For me, I think it'll take the sort of unexpected moment in Sideways to fully accept the reality that Barack Obama is president. When I'm cooking spaghetti and meat sauce and absentmindedly watching TV, and Obama comes on to talk about the economic crisis, and I switch to The Simpsons instead because it's been a long day -- then I'll know the novelty has worn off. That'll be the moment that, for me, the idea of Obama will have truly sunk in.