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Obama as Nero

The candidate preaches to the choir.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

August 29, 2008 - 12:00 am

As Barack Obama leaves Denver, I hope he remembers to fetch his fiddle: He’ll need something to play while the Democratic Party and its high hopes crumble, and he waxes poetic about the adoration of the masses he felt while perched a mile high at Invesco Field.

So, yeah, the palatial columns that made up the gaudy “West Wing” stage at Obama’s acceptance production reminded me of the cheesy set design in swords-and-sandals epics. But what really popped into my head was the image of Peter Ustinov as Nero in “Quo Vadis?” — “Do I live for the people or do the people live for me? … These people expect me to shine both day and night!” The left would have it that only the Republicans regard the masses as plebs, but Obama knows these masses as his loyal flock.

So loyal, in fact, that style was an easily accepted substitute for substance at this week’s convention. On a stage that looked like an Oscar for Best Performance by a Long-Winded Politician (Biden!) was going to be handed out any minute, the loyal masses saw a well-scripted throwing in of the towel by Hillary Clinton, in shots that made you wish there was an open mic on her, Bill, or even an at-times steely-faced Michelle Obama. The Republican crossover speech from former Congressman Jim Leach was a snoozing counterpoint to Zell Miller at the 2004 Republican National Convention or even how we know Joe Lieberman will be received at next week’s RNC.

And the policy points? Stunning! Bill Clinton intimated that Republicans hate autistic kids. John Kerry showed his hide is still plenty chapped over that Swift boat thing. Joe Biden struck the obligatory pro-war concession (Afghanistan) for the anti-war party. And Barack Obama drove home the point that he won’t be upstaged by anyone, essentially snagging Biden’s spotlight night Wednesday with a surprise appearance and impromptu speech at the Pepsi Center.

Was the weeklong production enough to net an Obama win in November?

One thing apparent in Denver was that the far left thinks the moderate-left platitudes put on for the media show aren’t left enough. A protester on every corner reminded you about the evil Republicans, but also chided the Democrats as traitorous to their “anti-imperialist” causes. And as amusing as many of the protests were, there were some stomach-churning undertones: A woman promoting abortion and defending Iran at the same literature-laden booth. A bumpersticker for sale that proclaimed “Satan’s a Republican.” Chants that lumped the F-bomb and America in the same sentence. A silk-screen display showing the faces of Iran (translation: “don’t attack, you evil U.S.!”) yet didn’t include a single imprisoned journalist, tortured democracy activist, or devious mullah in the happy, smiling bunch.

It also became clear in my conversations with visitors just how much a significant portion of the African-American

community are investing in this Obama run. One Obama button seen for sale on the 16th Street Mall showed Martin Luther King Jr. saying “My dream is now reality,” though I can’t believe the legendary civil rights leader would have pinned all of his hopes and dreams for racial harmony on one candidate. Another button seen on a partygoer showed Obama and a giant fist, with the words “Obama said knock you out” (think the LL Cool J song). If Obama loses, how many will blame the message (or lack of details in it), and how many will let that sting sow seeds of greater divisiveness?

One night while riding the light rail, an Obama supporter stood in the middle of the train with a bullhorn, yelling random things to cheering response: “Cheney! Halliburton! KBR! Ted Haggard! Larry Craig! Slavery is over! Obama is here!” As others kvetched about John McCain, two young men wearing Obama T-shirts began fighting and calling each other the N-word. How ironic, I thought, considering the use of that slur is something that really needs to be changed in America.

I chatted with the passenger across from me, who wore an Obama button and a pendant of his parents’ picture, pre-Civil Rights era, on a dog-tag-style chain.  “I want change,” he said. “We just need change! I’m voting for change! I don’t care what happens in any other country. I just care about what happens here. Only in America.” Words that could have come from any America Firster backing Ron Paul, but are clearly a trend among those who would just like to hear Obama’s current focus on domestic social-justice issues such as taxing the rich.

The problem is that globalization is about a lot more than economies. What happens abroad will continue to directly affect American families more than ever before. And as we were aided to our independence by the French so many years ago, we just can’t falter on moral clarity in our global responsibilities, as well. Would a President Obama have come to the aid of Rwanda, or would the isolationist tone that edged him past the foreign-policy-minded Hillary Clinton win out, winning the adulation of the masses on the left?

As Obama ascended his perch over the plebs Thursday night, before a crowd that endured an hours-long line to get in to see their exalted leader, he bellowed the change refrain and tried to paint John McCain as an ignorant elitist. The feel-good celebration and laundry list of promises — you’ll all get health care, get college paid for, socialist redistribution of wealth be damned (oh yeah, it was tax cuts for “95 percent of working families” — who draws the working-class lines?) — rallied the liberal base, but will have done little to entrance the moderates who, as polls show, got really nervous about Obama over the Russia-Georgia crisis.

It seems that Obama’s soaring rhetoric and preaching to the choir — a wasted opportunity for him in a spotlight week — could have just served to burn his party in order to create an epic.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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