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Works and Days

It Isn’t Easy Being a Saint

January 25th, 2009 - 2:17 pm

Of course, during the campaign, some of us—dismissed as old and in the way, hoped and changed away white guys—suspected Obamania in part was a result of mere political rhetoric of the Huey Long or JFK sort. We remembered instead that his pastor Rev. Wright’s venom was not evidence of indiscretion but proof of clear serial hatred. We read carefully his platform and saw at best Carterism and at worse some half-baked European socialism that we now see imploding in Greece, Italy, or Spain.

Obama’s career in Chicago politics was all too familiar in such a landscape—friends acquired like convicted felon Tony Rezko and rival election candidates dropping out through law suits, or mysteriously being forced off the ballot due to leaks about their divorces. Only the genius of David Mamet could write its Chicago script.

And for all the talk of bipartisanship, candidate Obama had the most partisan record in the US Senate, and serially trashed right-wingers like Sean Hannety (and by extension his audience of 10 million) during the campaign. In fairness, I think he proved the nastier gutter fight than ambivalent Hamlet-like John McCain, who seemed at times he wished to lose nobly than sandbag the nation’s historic chance for a gifted African-American healer.

But then Obama was elected and as President promised, as most Presidents do, to bring us together. He met with conservative pundits, reappointed Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and brought in scores of Clinton centrists to manage his administration. Bravo to all that.

Yet the old Obama is starting to appear as most of you astute readers knew he would. Not a word from him about what can, without hyperbole, be called a dishonest Charlie Rangel, a reprehensible Chris Dodd, and the inexplicable Barney Frank who goes barking from one mortgage/banking ethical lapse to another, confident that no Democrat will dare take him on (he enjoys the exemption accorded to the proverbial raving but glib street-corner prophet who accosts you, flips you off on the street, and shouts in your ear and in public all the way to the car before trying to mount the hood and grab the windshield wipers).

Obama loftily talked about a new ethics law outlawing lobbyists, even as he tried to get an exemption for Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn. The problems that surrounded Treasury-Secretary designate Timothy Geithner, or the “troubles” with Attorney General Eric Holder, and Gov. Bill Richardson border on old-style greed, careerism and conflict of interest—in other words, the normal sort of controversies that a politician routinely overcomes if he’s not a saint.

For all the talk of bipartisanship, Obama like Lord Xerxes on his throne nevertheless has got down and dirty and trashed Rush Limbaugh (and by extension his 20 million listeners) and boasted to the Republican opposition. “I won. I am the President”—in braggadocio that exceeded the “decider” George Bush’s. I suspect if the Blago tapes are ever released in their entirety Rahm Emanuel will sound more like Nixon to Halderman than earnestly discussing the rising oceans with St. Obama.

The problem with all this is not that Obama’s trying to wheel and deal and talk out of both sides of his mouth like Bill Clinton and others, but, far worse, is staring to appear ridiculous like Jimmy Carter, divinely talking down to us as mere mortals as he acts like a mere mortal.

So what for others might be written off as the usual hypocrisy and small-mildness—No More Lobbyists in Government—Just One More in Mine! / I’m Zeus on Olympos above mortal cares—but Sean and Rush really piss me off and I want to get even with both! /I’m a radical egalitarian, but please appoint Caroline Kennedy who endorsed me but otherwise seems dyslexic—proves toxic even if it comes out as hexameter verse from St. Obama. The wages of prophethood are heavy, and those who walk on water, and proclaim Vero Possumus! can endure no mortal sin. Will the media that was made to look foolish with tingling legs and tearing cheeks get fooled twice, as Obama the Saint and Obama the Chicago Politician begin to bifurcate?

You readers remember that sometime around mid 2007, Obama made a Faustian bargain. Without much national name, without a legislative record in Illinois or the US Senate, but with quite a lot of Chicago baggage, Obama gambled on the hope and change new persona (soon to be followed with the soaring FDR/MLK/JFK prose, Latinate seal, Greek architraves, Victory Column /Sermon on the Mount speeches, Father Abraham’s arrival to DC by slow-moving rail car (after flying back to Illinois by jet)). For much of the campaign, he either hoped that Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright, Father Pfleger and the other assorted Dailey/Blago baggage would not surface, or, if it did, he could hope and change them all away. And he did—brilliantly . And now they are history and those who dredge them up little more cranky sore-losing has-beens.

But as President, no matter how historic a candidacy (more astounding than any in American history), no matter how calm in the face of continuous pressure, no matter how brilliant in prepared and set oratory, one can’t get away with that disconnect forever. There is a reason why a plodding Ike and blunt Harry Truman were greater Presidents than even JFK—and why in 2-3 years even George Bush will begin to seem in retropect honest, sober, and straight-talking rather than word-mangling.

As a novice politician without an Arkansas, or Plains, or Crawford mafia, even, or rather especially, Obama, had to import the hardest of the hard core Clintonistas—Emanuel, Podesta, Panetta, Hillary herself—and he had to pay off some overdue IOU’s to the left with symbolic gestures and appointments (more rhetoric and symbolism and task forces to come on Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, Gay Marriage, Cap and Trade, Kyoto redux, etc.).

Again, the backtracking on the issues, the tough centrist appointments, and the seeming continuance of a Bush (III?) foreign policy, once demonized now quietly embraced, are fine for Bill Clinton, Al Gore or Harry Reid, but in aggregate ever so insidiously they become finally problematic for the redeemer. As stated, even the Left-wing media won’t like looking foolish twice. And even the smug Europeans will turn on those who prod them to be reasonable and honest after serenading them with prose set to Mozart. Yes, he can halt the messiah act and we will forgive him for not being a messiah—or continue it in lieu of honest governance and I assure you in time even Newsweek and NPR will turn on him, in fear that they are not merely gullible, but looking ridiculous.

So even now, Obama need not play any longer the hypocrite and can recover if he mans up to the past hypnosis of the campaign, cools the Lincoln talk, reads about Nemesis, and admits that he is a mere mortal, an inexperienced one at that, matches his deeds with honest words, and seeks to govern in human rather than divine fashion from on high. That way a William Lynn or Timothy Geithner are just political landmines that one steps over rather than proof that the Wizard turns out to be a little man with levers and dials behind the curtain.

Americans can and will forgive almost anything other than hypocrisy.

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