Obama and Me

I observed that, generally speaking, Obama supporters rarely engaged in evidentiary debate, but studiously adopted evasive maneuvers instead. They either shut down the conversation entirely or, in many instances, contented themselves by flinging ad hominem invective at the doubter, in this way resolving the argument by steadfastly refusing to confront the facts at their disposal. Obviously, these are not the usages of reasoned discussion but the tactics of ingrained prejudice immune to the solvent of introspection.

Thus when I expressed my reservations to a close friend of many years, I received a cold and stinging email rebuke for my apparently bilious skepticism concerning so radiant a figure as Barack Obama. I was, to put it mildly, absolutely stunned by her response. (Perhaps I shouldn't have been, as a similar incident inspired the uproarious title of Harry Stein's 2009 book.) Trying to make light of this rebuke, I proposed that we meet over coffee to review the documentation I had collected and see if we could discern an emerging pattern, allowing her to draw her own conclusions as to its import. To no avail, and a warm friendship has since gone the way of many Democratic congressmen. This was by no means a one-off episode but was symptomatic of a kind of political exile to which I had now to accustom myself. It was clear that I was on the way to becoming persona non grata in my once-congenial entourage of friends and colleagues. In maintaining my conservative principles and in circulating my views of Obama -- meticulously researched over considerable time -- I would have to accept a rapidly dwindling company of friends. Obama has cost me dearly.

No less disturbing than the prospect of growing intellectual solitude was the fact that I scarcely recognized myself any longer. Obama had become an obsession that blotted out many of my previous interests and more beneficent compulsions, including my primary vocation, the writing of poetry. He was the subject of my nightly table talk, to the burgeoning discomfort of my word-battered wife. My Obama portfolio grew like the beanstalk until it was almost climbable -- not to mention a Borgian library of relevant volumes crowding me out of living space.

I can sympathize with E.M. Cioran when he wrote in The Trouble with Being Born that “faced with some victorious aberration, my rage borders on apoplexy.” Perhaps the time has arrived to put this self-adoring parvenu of a president out of mind and recuperate a semblance of psychological equilibrium. Perhaps I should just let him be Wikileaked into a state of embarrassment, leaving us to speculate which is more offensive, his deceptiveness or his ineptitude. Perhaps Julia Gorin had it right when she wrote that she “essentially tuned out of politics” the day Obama was elected, “having little interest in charting every step along the path to destruction that we non-Obama voters predicted.”

Or is patience the answer? Will people eventually acknowledge that the ideas pursued and enacted by this administration are so distressingly primitive as to resemble desultory proteins just beginning to emerge from a prebiotic world? Given a Republican-dominated House (though one can never be sure about the Republicans), the situation may change for the better in the next two years and the aberrant interlude in American politics signaled by Obama’s baleful stewardship will become a thing of the past, to be remembered with a mixture of mortification and relief. Personally, such an eventuality would give me the breather I look forward to and the leisure to revert to other, more rewarding, subjects. Perhaps I might even start now, before it is too late.

And yet, I cannot help but react with angry disbelief when I turn the pages of Harvard academic James Kloppenberg’s Reading Obama, an example of the menial sycophancy that burdened America with Obama in the first place. Kloppenberg argues that “Obama has demonstrated an exceptionally sophisticated and sustained engagement with the history of American thought and culture,” a claim for which there is not the slightest iota of evidence in any of Obama’s utterances and productions, including his boast of having campaigned in 57 states, with one left to visit. This is historical erudition?