Popping the Obama Balloon

I am reminded of the celebrated seventeenth-century “false messiah” Sabbatai Zevi, who succeeded in deluding multitudes for several high-flying years before he was finally outed and converted to Islam. As Jonathan Freely remarks in The Lost Messiah (somewhat more accessible than Gershom Scholem’s encyclopedic Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah), Zevi “had an engaging personality” and, according to one of his disciples, “he was tall and imposing.” But he was also cited by many observers for “his bizarre behavior,” his contradictory statements, and his reversals of mood. Nevertheless, the honorifics kept pouring in and he answered to many lustrous names: “the Anointed,” “the Prophet,” “the Sabbath-born” (hence, “Sabbatai”), hakham (or “rabbi,” “sage,” a title conferred on him at an early age), “He Who Beheld the Splendor,” “the Illuminated,” “the King,” “the hope of Israel,” even AMIRAH (from the initials for the Hebrew words “Our Lord and King, His Majesty Be Glorified”), and, simply, “Our Lord.” It appears that Zevi was “sort of god.”

Similarly, the panegyrics that cling to Obama continue to abound. But we are at least entitled to ask whether they are merited, for their effect is more likely to mislead and distract than to reveal and clarify, as was the case with his historical predecessor. Indeed, though he may be ostensibly soaring through the empyrean, such epithets stick to the American president like barnacles to a sunken airliner. They are the verbal and iconic effluents of minds that have surrendered to the empty mantra of “hope and change,” intent on hiding from themselves what is nothing less than a massive dereliction, a species of millenarian fraud. They are memes of desire, tropes of self-deception, figures of the need to believe, rather than accurate descriptors of what stands visibly before us. Such unstinted adulation as Obama has received provides thick cover for what Peter Collier calls “a vain, small-minded, and morally anemic presidency.” The blind obeisance of “the people” and the legacy media -- as well as the unseemly fabrications of the president’s minions and apostles, who must know the truth behind the charade -- never cease to amaze.

What all these parabolic recitals show is that we have no clear idea who Barack Obama is. His essence is encrusted over with surrogate onomastics and radiant designations. That is their function. Every new anagogic label slapped on this media product, every logo and voucher, serves to obscure what the “package” actually contains. Each endorsement of transcendence is only a sign of a clandestine suppression.

But if we insist on applying metaphorical correlates to the object of our presumptive adoration, it might be more appropriate to regard the president as some kind of UFO -- an unidentified flying Obama. Or better yet, as the ultimate balloon boy. An entire nation breathlessly follows his flight across the political skies, fixated on his trajectory, preoccupied with his actual whereabouts and eventual destination, only to discover in the course of time that he was never really where we thought he was. He was always elsewhere. Sadly -- and this is inevitable -- we will, sooner or later, learn that we were the credulous and willing dupes of an elaborate hoax.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, dear readers, it is none of these. It is balloon boy, and you’ve been had.