Americans seem unable to tell eloquence from hype, so we have heard
the incessant use of the word “historic” lately to describe
what is, after all, a superficial change in our rulership. The news
media have been groveling comically before Barack Obama, our Boy Wonder,
because of his skin tone and partially African ancestry. His father
was reportedly an unremarkable Kenyan sot who deserted him as a toddler
and had almost no part in his formation.
This new president of ours is a virtual dark continent of a man. We
really know little about him, but the vacuum in our awareness is being
filled by empty superlatives and impossibly high hopes.
Mythologists are straining to draw portentous analogies between Obama,
on the one hand, and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King on the
other. Obama himself encourages this by borrowing bits of these demigods’ famous
His worshippers are already eager to chisel his features into Mount
Rushmore. Why wait? Americans believe profoundly in Great Presidents,
who need not have accomplished anything beyond starting wars and getting
shot. The media have already dragged out poor old Doris Kearns Goodwin
to provide Historical Perspective. Obama’s birthday is not yet,
at this writing, a federal holiday, or even a Unitarian high holy day,
but it’s getting a trifle fulsome. Talk about high expectations! “Hail
to the Chief” may have to yield to a new presidential theme,
such as “Magic Man.”
Despite his Harvard education, it appears that Obama has never been
exposed to The Federalist Papers, but then neither was Lincoln, who
had a scanty two years of crude frontier schooling. Few men, after
all, have risen in American politics by virtue of erudition. Do you
suppose that George Walker Bush spent his impressionable years pondering
the wisdom of Hamilton and Madison? Mon derriere,
amigo. You might
as well argue that Snoop Dogg attained his proficiency in rap by studying The Well-Tempered Clavier.
No, Bush rose to the heights the old-fashioned way: by having a rich
daddy with excellent connections, in the great tradition of democratic
leaders named Adams, Harrison, Taft, Roosevelt, Rockefeller, Kennedy,
Bush, Romney, Bayh, Udall, Hunter, Biden, Dodd. Cuomo, Gore, and so
forth. Privileged boys may coast upward, but a Lincoln, a Hitler, a
Nixon, or an Obama must take a lonelier path: rising by his own wits
and talents, often oratorical, making ends meet by splitting his rails
(as it were) at Harvard Law. Such poor boys may arouse messianic dreams
in their followers, as Obama is now doing.
“Yes we can!,” “We can save the world!,” “We
need a new Declaration of Independence.” Such utterances would
be correctly recognized as insane ravings had the speaker used the
first person singular rather than the plural.
These monstrous overstatements have reminded an old friend of Bush’s
wild claims for universal democracy. Exactly. That was going to change
the world too, if anyone cares to remember. Richard Perle and David
Frum, two of Bush’s brainy neoconservative champions, boldly
predicted “an end to evil” if the United States invaded
Iraq; but so far, after the passage of several years, evil seems to
be holding its own. Yea, verily, the actual title of their book was
An End to Evil; one wonders whether they are planning a sequel and,
if so, what they will call it. (Among their contentions was that the
United States stood in peril of a “holocaust” from global
Coming after all this, even Obama’s most overwrought asseverations
may sound like the voice of cool reason. Which Bush official was it
who warned us that “the risks of inaction are greater than the
risks of action”? We were cautioned against weapons of mass destruction,
religious fanaticism, smoking guns, mushroom clouds, and other threats,
and we were urged to seal our houses with duct tape.
After “historic,” perhaps the most overworked word of
the season has been “inspirational.” What has Obama said
that could move the heart or elevate the spirit? Very little. At best,
he shows flashes of common sense, neither inspired nor inspiring. He
comes as a relief from Bush’s mortifying fatuity, but this faint
praise is about all he merits.
Some of the commentary about him verges on the blasphemous; one pundit
spoke of his “spiritual leadership of the nation,” as if
he had been elevated to the papacy.
Of course, Obama can’t be blamed for the absurd excesses of
those who adore him; he never asked anyone to crown him with a tiara.
It just goes to show: Although the American political genius (now largely
defunct) was for the division and dispersion of power, most men will
always prefer a dictatorial monarchy. Caesars and Bonapartes are perennially
popular. Fascism is so natural to man that it’s a marvel that
the rule of law survives at all.
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