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The Reactionary Utopian
February 11, 2009

King Barack
by Joseph Sobran

[Monarchy, anyone?]

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 phrases.

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 Islam.)

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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