In the very best postmodern fashion, Obama and his supporters have relied on a narrative about Obama that has been carefully constructed. He’s brilliant, a great writer, a rare thinker, a moderate, a first-class temperament with neatly pressed pants, a uniter, a cool guy who’s unflappable.
The first debate last Wednesday threatened to make that narrative seem absurd. You might say that the narrative got mugged by reality, and an awful lot of people were watching while it happened.
But the next day there was a new narrative in place — or rather, several narratives: Romney cheated, the altitude was too high for Obama, he didn’t have time to practice because he was too busy with weighty matters, Romney lied, and look at those great unemployment numbers!
Those numbers themselves are another narrative, one that no one can quite figure out because there’s a disparity between one part of the stats and other parts. In a very real sense, the numbers don’t seem to add up. But they’re good for the Obama narrative, unless you think too deeply about them.
But one of the points of a narrative is not to think too deeply about it.
Now in a sense every candidate spins a narrative about him/herself, and the media spins a narrative of its own which is either in agreement or disagreement with that candidate’s preferred narrative. But Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate I can think of — be they liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, someone I have liked and supported or someone I have detested and opposed — who is nearly all about the narrative, and who seems so aware of it (“I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views”).
Obama is not only aware of it. He exploits it:
Run-of-the-mill politicians try to hide their duplicity. Only the most gifted of that profession brag that they intend to confound and confuse the public. Such an effort is beyond ingenious; it is brazenly ingenuous.
Obama is sui generis in American presidents, and I’m not referring to the fact that he’s the first black president. That’s irrelevant to this issue, except as another narrative for Obama to exploit. No, his uniqueness is something quite different and involves his unprecedented ability to convince vast numbers of people that he is whatever they wish him to be.
Andrew Klavan calls Obama “an imaginary man.” This is of course not meant literally; Obama is an actual man made of flesh and blood. Klavan is instead referring to what he calls Obama’s “make-believe greatness.” And Bill Clinton, a man you may not admire but who’s smart as a whip, recognized this about Obama way back during the 2008 campaign, as well as acknowledging the media’s complicity in the construction of Obama’s narrative. Bill was plenty annoyed when he himself, as well as his wife Hillary, became the target of it.