The Pied Piper of America
It's time to stop the music.
September 23, 2010 - 12:06 am
Everyone knows the old folk tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, made famous by Goethe, the Brothers Grimm, and Robert Browning. The story has its origins in a medieval legend in which a piper dressed in a parti-colored robe mysteriously appears out of nowhere — “there was no guessing his kith and kin,” writes Browning — and offers, for a sum, to rid the town of its plague of rats. Having done so, he returns to collect his payment. When he is refused he mesmerizes the town’s children with his melodies and leads them away, never to be seen again, except for a single lame child who cannot keep up with his fellows.
Setting aside the obvious differences and allowing for parody, there are curious analogies with the career of the current president of the United States. A man of pied heritage and sonorous aptitudes, he appears practically out of nowhere, proceeds to charm the multitudes with his dulcet airs, and promises to heal a country suffering a cultural and political infestation of metaphorical rats: doubt, cynicism, dissatisfaction, weariness, and dissension. Indeed, he vows a “fundamental transformation” of the current state of affairs, and a vast audience, dazzled by his virtuoso flair for deception, cannot resist his appeal. He raises his pipe to his lips (although, be it said, reading the music off a teleprompter) and before one knows it succeeds in enchanting an entire people who follow him like little children to the wondrous destination he has prepared for them.
In an exchange with Chris Matthews on Hardball, former Newsweek editor Evan Thomas certainly saw it that way. Obama “is going to say, now, children, stop fighting and quarreling with each other.” A skeptical Newsbusters blogger, reacting to Thomas and his ilk, comments on Obama’s numberless queue of rapt believers, “They would follow him to hell singing his praises.” They were feeling the love, the allure, the temptation, and had readily succumbed to the piper’s rich chromatics. As Obama said of his Secret Service detail, they “follow me wherever I go.” And follow him they did, to the very edge of the precipice of unsustainable debt, immigration chaos, racial controversy, military fallback, electoral unscrupulousness, American unexceptionalism, juridical nonfeasance, greater insecurity, and growing international derision.
This was not the “fundamental transformation” they had expected. Fortunately, among those who were attracted by the message of change, the honeyed cadences or the charismatic personality of a much-dappled candidate, and had enthusiastically joined his troupe, there were a sufficient number of “lame” votaries who lagged far enough behind to retain some degree of perspective, hobbling back with the warning that all was not what it seemed. This only confirmed and reinforced the skepticism of the more realistic and conservative observers who found the piper’s canticles rather more cloying than ambrosial and wisely stayed at home. Although many of the original naifs have now bethought themselves, plugging their ears against the president’s siren inducements and returning to where they started from, many are still determined to plunge over the cliff.
The drama that is now being enacted in the U.S. is both portentous and fascinating, as one part of the country fights to regain its soul and retrieve its future and another seems resolved to extinguish them both. It is almost as if America has been “possessed” by the demonic spirit of political correctness, media subversion, and a seditious ruling class that wishes to remake the country into something it was never intended to be. The one remaining hope for the U.S. is that the forthcoming congressional elections can serve as a form of exorcism.
Obama may be an ephebe, an utter novice at the post of command, but it must be admitted that he is a consummate sorcerer who was able to seduce and enchant multitudes, especially the horde of grown-up children so ready and eager to be piped to. Unlike the Pied Piper, however, he did not work alone but arrived on the scene surrounded by a retinue of plutocrats, political mandarins, and clever enablers, and of course by the usual train of cavillers, pettifoggers, sybarites, and janissaries, that is, journalists, feminists, intellectuals and academics. This only facilitated his task which he would not have been capable of accomplishing on his own.
Nonetheless, he had the magic, the gift of bewitchment, and no hesitation in using it. It wasn’t long before he was able to spellbind a vast swarm of believers with the promise of auroral benefictions (if I may coin a term). The tune was irresistible but very few heard the infrasonic lyrics, which actually belied the melody. These poor dupes followed him willingly into the new dawn of mellifluous beginnings, only to find the bright morning of the future suddenly changed into the grim presentiment of the coming debacle. This is what inevitably happens when one invests uncritically in fairy tales and surrenders one’s intelligence and autonomy to the blandishments of a false messiah.
The Pied Piper is still piping away but the tune he is playing is sounding less and less incantatory and his crowd of beguiled adherents is growing thinner by the day. This reversal does not mean that restoration is surely at hand, for who knows what sweet aria he may come up with next and whether a chastened company of electoral moppets may be able to resist once again relapsing into the romantic delusion of sham revelations and mercurial ecstasies. The time for vigilance and a belated maturity has never been more pressing.
Of course, there will be negative consequences attendant on the piper’s embarrassment. The European hoi polloi will grumble that America has disappointed them yet again and reverted to its vulgar, cowboy ideology. The American left will feel betrayed and turn even more vociferously against its own country, as if treason were a sign of ideological purity. Some of these veteran innocents have traveled so far along a trail paved with fool’s gold that they cannot revise their itinerary without sacrificing their dignity or their careers. They have no option but to persist in their folly. Further, the pied piper’s wife will no longer feel proud of the nation she once considered a hotbed of racism before her husband was elected president. But these are drawbacks and forfeitures that will just have to be accepted and lived with.
America wants its kids back, whether they be callow students agitating for the millennium, feminists frozen in their adolescent past, journalists still in mental diapers, social toddlers gorged on entitlement pablum, intellectual tantrum-throwers crying for the teat, and, of course, the squalling pack of baby boomers retiring into their second kindergartens.
The road home will be enormously difficult but the U.S. is now so close to the abyss that there is, quite simply, no choice in the matter. Reality always grates against the saccharine pipe dream. The pied piper must be sent packing and his lulling come-hithers decisively repelled should he ever reappear. Otherwise, a meager destiny awaits a once-great nation and the rats that the piper presumably came to exterminate will, as Browning puts it, bite the babies in their cradles and lick the soup from the cook’s ladles.