“What do we do now?”
– Robert Redford as Bill McKay, in the 1972 film, The Candidate*
We still remember a messianic Barack Obama criss-crossing all 57 states promising “millions of new green jobs” and to “close Guantanamo.” Those pre-September 15, 2008, days were heady times, the apex of doctrinaire postmodern liberalism without the responsibility of governance. Most of us then had never really heard of a teleprompter and were mesmerized by someone who could look out at us with instant impromptu recall of fact after fact — and in such eloquent fashion.
Remember how, with 19th-century monument backdrops or faux Greek columns, Obama rattled off the most honey-tongued panaceas at hundreds of “hope and change,” “this is our moment” revival hours. He lifted millions in Rev. Wright cadences without the nuttiness — and with plenty of advice to paramedics to attend to the fainting and collapsed. But the message? It was not unlike an Ivy League graduate student with his hand perpetually up in the seminar room, blurting out answers to questions before the professor could ask them. (Obamania reminded me of a farmers’ market shopper who once asked me what a “raisin plant” was and then inquired whether they would grow in Santa Cruz.)
War on terror? Easy, just shut down Guantanamo, end renditions and tribunals, pull out of Iraq, and prune back predator drones and other anti-constitutional and unnecessary Bush transgressions. Hadn’t we seen Redacted or Rendition? Wanting something to end, and being the right sort to want something to end, surely were to be synonymous with something ending.
Financial panic? At some point all those Wall Street greedy types that had enriched both the McCain and (to a greater degree) the Obama campaigns would realize that they had already made enough money, and they could either hand over what they owed us, or be socialized and recreated into working at the ministry of investment. Only in Obamaworld do the Peter Orszags among us never go into government briefly in order to revolve out to work for Citibank in Robert Rubin, insider, zillions-to-be-made style.
Tension in the world? No problem: reset diplomacy, talk to Ahmadinejad, reach out to Putin, lean on Israel, charm Assad or Chavez, start talking about Islamophobia and Western neglect of the real positive contributions of Islam. Presto, terrorists are reminded that our president’s middle name is Hussein and they desist. Enemies realize Bush is gone, and that a secretary-general sort is the new president of a flipped America. Peace reigns. Obama wins the Nobel Prize. Now we can finally heal the planet, as we quit trying to steal Iraq’s oil and enrich Halliburton.
Health care? Bring back HillaryCare but this time with “smart” changes and a competent salesman. As Obama advised worried congressional Democrats, this time around they had Obama as point man, or, as he sometimes bragged, “Just give me the ball.” He envisioned himself (literally) as Lebron James soaring to dunk, his congressional lackeys the uncoordinated nerdy cheerboys who would share in his reflected glory.
Eco-change? What better point man that a hip Van Jones, a bit further on the edge than Barack Obama, to shake down corporations for cap and trade and a vast new technocracy staffed by Ivy League green overseers and “millions of new (federal) green jobs”? Remember, the ooh/aah quote from Valerie Jarret about Van: “We’ve been watching him for a long time.”
I’ll stop. You get the picture: the grad students were going to run the campus and so instead of offshore drilling we were going to get properly inflated tires.
Not being Bush
Millions in commerce, journalism, academia, and the arts not only supported, but invested their careers in this adolescent world of Obama, to such a degree that tens of millions of others felt that they had to buy a pet rock or feel they had missed out on a “first-class temperament.”
Obama, now the “god” who, to paraphrase Sappho, sent his enthralled into tingling ecstasy, was an almost perfect liberal receptacle: half black with the ability to metamorphosize in bearing and cadence depending on the audience, young, charismatic, suitably Ivy League certified, on the edge with his Chicago organizing, but not on the edge with his Harvard Law Review fides, a non-socialist with a voting record to the left of the Senate’s only declared socialist — and free of any accomplishment, with lacunae instead of a resume, the largely empty vessel into which liberals could pour all their own pet utopian nostrums that usually Americans ignore.
You can see how Obama won. Yes, we know that 2008 was an orphaned election without an incumbent. The novelty of our first black president won 96 percent of the black vote and appealed to millions of affluent whites, youth, and minorities. The September 15 meltdown destroyed the McCain lead. McCain himself campaigned as if he wished to lose nobly in Ajaxian style. The media decided it had to ensure this once-in-a-lifetime gift, and joined rather than monitored Obama.
But there was more than that. Behind all this was our occasional but inevitable rendezvous (about every 30 or so years?) with this guilty liberal creed that the very system that has enriched and freed our society in ways unheard of elsewhere or in civilization’s past — free market capitalism under the aegis of republican government — is in itself pathological. In short, America has for so long become so free and so wealthy, we have institutionalized this periodic indulgence to fret that we weren’t free or affluent at all, or at least everyone here wasn’t, or that our exceptionalism came only on the backs of others, or that it was unsustainable and doomed. We go from worrying that those with cell phones and SUVs are about to kill each other over Xboxes and big-screen TVs in Black Friday rush shopping sprees to sermons that these exploited have no money to pay the electric bill to power all the gadgetry up the next day.