The day after President Barack Obama became our 44th president, I compiled a roundup of reaction to his inaugural address, beginning with Philip Klein’s assessment at the American Spectator that it was “a rather flat and unfocused talk without any memorable lines.” But I also noted the hyperbolic hosannas from Walter Shapiro of the New Republic, who asserted that Obama’s speech was so splendid that it “reminded the nation that here was a man who wrote himself into his job.”
That pushed my button. Back in May, an article recounting the sweetheart book deal Obama got as a 28-year-old Harvard Law student prompted me to create a humorous Facebook group, Authors Against Obama. Anyone who’s ever suffered through the hellacious process of publishing a book must surely be irritated to learn that (a) Obama had been sought out by a literary agent on the basis of a New York Times article about his becoming the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, (b) the agent got this beginner signed with Simon & Schuster, (c) Obama botched that deal, only to be signed to another contract with another major publisher for a reported $40,000 advance, and then (d) having been contracted to write a book about race relations, instead delivered a memoir.
A memoir! As I said at the time, no 28-year-old should be paid to write a memoir unless he led the league in RBIs and helped the Yankees win the World Series.
That joke bounced around the Internet for a few days last spring, even as some conservatives mused more seriously about how many other times Obama had been favored with similar good fortune. It wasn’t exactly a conspiracy theory, but several in the blogosphere wondered how one person could get so many amazingly good breaks. One reader called to my attention a January 2008 American Thinker article in which Jack Cashill examined what he interpreted as evidence that Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father had been ghost-written by — wait for it — Bill Ayers.
Well, you can take up that argument with Jack Cashill, but if a New Republic writer is going to cite Obama’s inaugural address as evidence of our new president’s incomparable authorial gifts, I’m certainly not going to neglect to mention that at least one critic suspects the auteur benefited from a generous portion of Editorial Helper.
Mention something like that, however, and you’ll quickly find yourself accused of Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS), a dementia now allegedly rampant among conservatives, just as Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) went viral among liberals the past eight years.
Actual evidence of an ODS pandemic, however, is sketchy. In fact, most references to ODS are from conservatives warning against “irrational rage,” as the blogger Neo-Neocon did at Pajamas Media just five days after Obama won the election. Similarly, David Horowitz invoked ODS in December to condemn a “fringe group” that had succumbed to “sore loserism” by floating the idea that a forged birth certificate had been used to hide Obama’s foreign birth, which allegedly made him ineligible for the presidency.
ABC’s Jake Tapper is the only mainstream journalist who claims to have diagnosed a genuine case of ODS, using the term to describe the suggestion by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) that Obama’s vague reference to a volunteer civilian “national security” force was evidence of totalitarian ambition.
Beyond such “fringe” ideas, however, there is no evidence that Obama’s election has driven any substantial number of conservatives into the kind of irrational frenzy George W. Bush inspired on the left. Where are the right-wingers mounting anything remotely like the mass demonstrations organized by International ANSWER? Where is the right-wing equivalent of the Code Pink women who disrupted congressional hearings and State of the Union speeches?
No such analogs exist. For better or worse, Republicans don’t much go for the politics of protest. Why? The GOP and the Democrats are different parties representing different coalitions with different traditions. Beginning with George McGovern’s doomed 1972 campaign, the Democrats absorbed the self-righteous political passions of the campus left. It was so easy for “progressives” to believe that Dick Cheney was a sinister schemer, that Bush was a corrupt stooge for Big Oil, that the entirety of the past eight years was one vast war crime perpetrated to serve the interests of “corporate America,” because such narratives are deeply embedded in the Left’s tradition. The same tradition dictates that when the “fascists” are ascendant, the revolutionary vanguard must lead the masses into the streets — aux barricades!
Conservative activists have labored for decades, with little success, to build a right-wing equivalent of the Left’s militant hordes. But a group of Republican college kids is still a group of Republican college kids, more interested in beer and the opposite sex than in fomenting dissent on campus. And even if they withstand the indoctrination of the Marxoid professoriate to graduate with their Republican loyalties intact, they’re more interested in building careers than in advancing any ideological vision.
Occasional outbreaks of conservative activism like the car-honking protests in 2001 that helped defeat a state income tax in Tennessee remain the exception rather than the rule. And while there are some who traffic in right-wing conspiracy theories (one recalls the Clinton-era speculation that surrounded Vince Foster’s death and murmurs of shadowy doings at Mena Airport in Arkansas), these people are dismissed as “kooks” by the Right’s most prominent spokesman, Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh sparked criticism last week when the widespread pro-Obama mood, manifest even among some Republicans, moved him to declare, “I hope he fails” — by which he meant only that he would oppose the Democratic president’s attempt to implement a liberal agenda, the same liberal agenda that Rush has been vocally opposing for the past 20 years. “Why would I want him to succeed?” Limbaugh told his friend Sean Hannity a few days later.
Even as he declared his opposition, Rush predicted that there would be outrage from the “drive-by media” — a prophecy quickly fulfilled. And it is the “drive-bys” who were the subject of most conservative complaints during inauguration week. But when ABC News political director George Stephanopoulos is reportedly moved to tears by a Democrat’s inauguration, it is surely not “derangement” for Republicans to question his objectivity.
When Obama is featured 14 times on the cover of Time in a single year, when Chris Matthews of NBC News experiences a “thrill up my leg” from an Obama speech, when bookstores are converted into Obama shrines — and, yes, when a New Republican essayist hails a rather ordinary inaugural speech as “poetry … that truly showed the writerly hand” — it is indeed possible to speak of an “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”
But it is not conservatives who are deranged.