A mere symptom
Obama was a symptom of a hallowed American tradition. Usually in American political theater, those who shun reform to embrace apocalypse do pretty well. So George Bush transmogrified into the “worst” president in history, and Obama came to the rescue as part-Mandela, part-FDR, and no part an absolute novice without any accomplishment (other than brilliantly sizing up the rather guilty and rich world of liberal elites) to have handed to him what was usually to be earned. Bill Clinton’s step-in the other day was simply the reification of what condescending liberals are now thinking: “OK, our liberal trance with Obama is over; he got us in power, but is of course clueless; now how can we finesse it for the liberal varsity to take over?”
In those now long ago days before Climategate and one too many vein-bulging dressing-downs, Al Gore was apotheosized for convincing the planet both that it was probably doomed and that his own various books, films, and green companies could be part of the solution for the crises that he so brilliantly helped to inflate. Gore had taken a truth (man’s 21st-century lifestyle in theory could alter the atmosphere) and made out of it The Truth that we are doomed in just a few years without radical action of the sort he peddled. He was soon selling eco-penances to fund the stones on his own rising Gorethedral.
In that sense Gore was only following a long tradition of entrepreneurial alarmists who saw problems in the free enterprise culture of the West and turned those solvable challenges into impending Armageddon, in the process winning a lot of attention and money as a sort of hyper-prophet/fixer. We know the script of, say, a Rachel Carson (e.g., overuse of organophosphate pesticides has doomed the planet), Paul Ehrlich (Indian and Chinese poverty is proof that the planet is doomed by a “population bomb”) or a Michael Harrington (without a massive government war on poverty America is lost). They were only the snooty versions of the 1990s Tony Robbins videos.
Remember the Michael Moore shtick in the Cindy Sheehan era? He rose to the heights of liberal society (invited to sit next to Jimmy Carter at the 2004 Democratic convention) on the basis of being a useful idiot who could for the more respectable vicariously slander their president. That he had lamented bin Laden had chosen a blue state to murder 3000 Americans and that he rooted for insurgents in Iraq to defeat Americans (they, not us, were “Minutemen”) did not lessen his utility. We may see him now as a pathetic buffoon, but in 2004 he was an ascendant one, who understood that he had carved out a brilliant career as the unsightly smelly attack dog that nevertheless bloodies the adversary out in the street without the resulting hair and blood soiling the veranda porch.
So the “we are doomed without Obama” hysteria has finally gone the way of the torrential seas, the silent spring, the population bomb, the war on poverty, the geodesic dome, TM, the greening of America, and all the other periodic hysterias of the bored affluent liberal class, whose intellectual factories send in the raw product of challenges and problems and vomit out variously packaged “doom” on the other end of the assembly line.
What next? Where do you go after not wasting a crisis? After borrowing $3 trillion in 22 months, or having the president slurred with the f-word by his own liberal non-racist supporters, or investing in Putin, or starting a class war against those making over $250,00, or “healing” our way into the greatest racial tension in two decades, or turning a recession into an economic model, or teaching the world about mysterious unknown Islamic roots of the Western Enlightenment and Renaissance, or showcasing a Van Jones, or tit-for-tat whining about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, or turning over the economy to a soon to scram Orszag, Romer or Summers under the tutelage of Timothy Geithner, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett?
Well, it is still very hard to screw up the United States in four years.
So I suppose that the American people will wake up, turn off the whining sirens, ignore Elmer Gantry and in the next decade climb out of the hole — until the next Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, or Barack Obama comes around to assure them they are doomed unless they realize that their freedom and opulence are really…
Well, just fill in the blanks…
* Consider: 1) a divisive and hate-filled eight years of demonizing the Bush administration as Nazis deserving of commensurate punishment (recall Knopf’s Bush-snuff novel Checkpoint, the Toronto Film Festival prize going to the “docudrama” about killing Bush, and the Bush as brownshirt/Nazi motif from everyone from John Glenn, to Al Gore); 2) the greatest liberal setback in 72 years; 3) a messianic 2008 campaign whose dénouement was worry that Bush might subvert the Constitution in his lame duck last months and not leave; and then conclude that 4) we are now to renounce labels like “racist” from the left and “socialist” from the right (note the false moral equivalence, as if there is a senatorial counterpart to Bernie Sanders from the “Racist party” or a European mainstream party is called the “Democratic Racist Party”).
We always get these quite admirable warnings that political discourse has hit a new low, that a new center of civility is needed — after a 1980-like or 2010-like election. We rarely get them in periods like 2004 when “any means necessary” is the creed to stop a Bush-Hitler or hear warnings to George Soros or Jimmy Carter to cool the hate-filled rhetoric.
When David Frum admirably calls for restraint, I am reminded that not long ago in the glory days of the Obama administration, Frum thought it necessary to counter Rush Limbaugh’s influence by invoking his one-time bout of drug dependency and weight (e.g., “his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence”). Juxtapose all that with “No Labels” and there comes disbelief at the present campaign against ad hominem invective that hampers political discourse. (By Frum’s earlier standard, Gov. Chistie’s waistline or President Obama’s confessionals about habitual use of marijuana and occasional “blow” are fair political discourse).