Ed Driscoll

The Summer of Barry

George: Severance package…The Yankees are giving me three months full pay for doing nothing.

Jerry: They did it for three years. What’s another few months.

George: I’m really going to do something with these three months.

Jerry: Like what?

George: I’m gonna read a book. From beginning to end. In that order.

Jerry: I’ve always wanted to do that…

George: I’m gonna play frolf.

Jerry: You mean golf?

George: Frolf, frisbee golf Jerry. Golf with a frisbee. This is gonna be my time. Time to taste the fruits and let the juices drip down my chin. I proclaim this: The Summer of George!

— Seinfeld, May 15, 1997, “The Summer of George.”

The close-up of Obama’s hand on the podium in his hagiographic profile in Esquire, with the TOTUS just off camera no doubt staring back at him with maximum disapproval, make it look as if he’s hitchhiking, rather than giving a speech. Which in a way is the perfect metaphor for him right now. Between now and November of 2012, the president will be hitchhiking across the land via an enormous fleet of MSM-owned vehicles, whose convey of claptrap will convey two messages:

  • Anyone who opposes Obama is a racist, closeted or otherwise.
  • Obama is God.

Granted, that second message is much harder to sell today than it was at the start of 2008. Back then, as Obama or his ghostwriter famously noted in his autobiography, “I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views,” and the JournoListas would soon go crazy over him. Nearly four years later, he’s certainly no blank slate these days. But that doesn’t stop one Esquire man from giving it the old Ruling Class try. (Link safe; goes to the Tatler):

Before the fall brings us down, before the election season begins in earnest with all its nastiness and vulgarity, before the next batch of stupid scandals and gaffes, before Sarah Palin tries to convert her movie into reality and Joe Biden resumes his imitation of an embarrassing uncle and Newt and Callista Gingrich [FIG.1] creep us all out, can we just enjoy Obama for a moment? Before the policy choices have to be weighed and the hard decisions have to be made, can we just take a month or two to contemplate him the way we might contemplate a painting by Vermeer or a guitar lick by the early-seventies Rolling Stones or a Peyton Manning pass or any other astounding, ecstatic human achievement? Because twenty years from now, we’re going to look back on this time as a glorious idyll in American politics, with a confident, intelligent, fascinating president riding the surge of his prodigious talents from triumph to triumph. Whatever happens this fall or next, the summer of 2011 is the summer of Obama.

In much the same way that 1997 was the Summer of George Costanza.

But then, this is what Esquire does for every Democrat running for office when it’s election time. In June of 2004, the magazine could actually run, maybe even with a straight face, the words “JOHN KERRY, POLITICAL BADASS,” accompanied by the following text, which astonishingly, is still on the magazine’s Website. It’s not quite as mythological as the standard-issue Obamaprose, but hey, consider what they had to work with:

John Kerry’s story always had soul, but John Kerry rarely showed it. He gave it up for a political career. At least that’s what we thought we knew about him. He was bloodless, lost in the gated abstractions of his mind. He wasn’t in any way justified, nor sanctified, nor initiated into the tribe. He walked the walk but he couldn’t talk the talk.

If this half-finished political season is about anything, it’s about John Kerry walking back up the marble steps and facing the Mall again, remembering the power that the audience gave back to him. It’s about his reclaiming those parts of his biography outside of which he’s walked ever since they weren’t enough to get him elected in Lowell. It’s about walking over strangely familiar ground with a slower tread and a wiser eye, and it’s about redeeming passion for passion’s own sweet sake, about allowing yourself to be thankful for what it can do for your ideas, about grace notes and regret, and it’s daring to be cool again, just for a moment, as the occasion demands.

Here he is, with the music rising all around him, down into the roiling crowd to work it along its edges. Up on the stage, Max Cleland sits not far from Congressman John Lewis, two bloodied veterans of the two great movements that formed John Kerry and that transformed the home state that he came to represent long before it came grudgingly to adopt him.

John Lewis looks down from the stage at John Kerry, who’s shaking every hand and smiling a craggy smile that’s not in any way easy or glib, but no less genuine for that.

“Look at him,” Lewis says. “He’s doing fine, isn’t he? I mean, he’s getting better, and we’re working on him. We’re working on him.”

Lewis then gives me a grin, and it’s the same damn grin that Chris Greeley gave me in that Falmouth saloon twenty years ago. Go on, this grin says, underestimate him. Lose yourself in the surface bullshit–the moneyed wife, the plummy accent, the windsurfing. Go ahead, it says, throw yourself into the national cartoon in which it’s a story every time the guy receives communion because he’s getting heat from a bunch of Roman Catholic bishops who ought to be lighting candles every day for the next decade in thanksgiving that they weren’t all hauled off in a RICO proceeding. Go ahead and do all that, the grin says, and there he’ll be at the end of it–stubborn, willful John Kerry, with his Ent-like presence and his drifting periods of political walkabout, dipping into the crowd until he looks something like a pol.

Does he feel it coming back at him again? you wonder. Does he feel the heat as well as see the light? The magic is there, a gift, right there in his hand. Does he have it in him to close his fingers around it? And if he does, will he notice that he’s made a fist?

Did anybody that year? But as Evan Thomas, then of Newsweek, just as the now-fatal icebergs were coming into sight, said the month after the above article hit the newsstands:

“There’s one other base here: the media. Let’s talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, wants Kerry to win. And I think they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards — I’m talking about the establishment media, not Fox, but — they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all, there’s going to be this glow about them that some, is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them, that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.”

They could give shopworn Kerry and Edwards 15 points in 2004. And they’re cynical enough to think that just enough people won’t notice the same gameplan — now with added racerism — in 2012 to try to put a much better-known commodity over the hump once again.

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