Before Sunday morning, I had never seen Barack Obama in person. Of course, I had seen him on television roughly as often as Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse combined, but the man himself had eluded my eyes.
Not that seeing him with approximately 13,000 other AIPAC attendees and press (not sure exactly how many were there, but most) in the Washington Convention Center constitutes anybody’s version of “up close and personal.” But I am forced to admit — and you can put this down to the power of preconceptions, if you wish — that catching our president in the flesh only confirmed what I had long thought of him from afar.
This is one strange dude — part narcissist, part Chicago ward heeler, part neo-Alinskyite marxist, part talk show host smoothie, part nowhere man. The ideas might be there, traceable back to Ayers, Dohrn, and Reverend Wright, but he has pushed them far away, almost as if he were trying to forget them. They were no longer functional and had to go, but he is left with… what?
It’s hard to tell what he really thinks now because I suspect even he doesn’t know what that is. He is a kind of moving target, not just to us, but to himself. You expect to hate him, then you start to like him, then you start to hate him again. At the end, you don’t really know what you think, although in my case you revert to your previous view — extreme distaste.
I think this odd personality of the president’s accentuated the ambivalent manner in which his speech on Israel was received by the AIPAC audience. (Several interviews I did for PJTV, to appear later, reflected this.) At times there was copious applause, but then silence for long stretches, as if the audience was nodding off, waiting to be awakened by yet another guarantee – sotto voce – that Iran will not be allowed to get nuclear weapons.
How this was to be done, was never explained beyond the amorphous sanctions. (One of the breakout sessions later that afternoon — on internal Iranian politics with the estimable Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Ali Alfoneh of the American Enterprise Institute — made clear just how ridiculous that approach is. The Iranians, playing their own power games of despot vs. despot, Khamenei vs. Ahamdinejad vs. Rafsanjani, could be less interested in our blandishments or lack thereof.)