Ed Driscoll

A 'Bam is Whatever Room He Is In

In his latest column, Mark Steyn navigates through “Eternally shifting sands of Obama’s biography,” along with a soupçon of the  crab with tomato mayonnaise from Elizabeth Warren’s Pow Wow Chow cookbook:


“I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then,” says Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby.” “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people – his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself… . So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”

In a post-modern America, the things that Gatsby attempted to fake – an elite schooling – Obama actually had; the things that Gatsby attempted to obscure – the impoverished roots – merely add to Obama’s luster. Gatsby claimed to have gone to Oxford, but nobody knew him there because he never went; Obama had a million bucks’ worth of elite education at Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law, and still nobody knew him (“Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him”). In that sense, Obama out-Gatsbys Gatsby: His “shiftless and unsuccessful” relatives – the deportation-dodging aunt on public housing in Boston, the DWI undocumented uncle, the $12-a-year brother back in Nairobi – are useful props in his story, the ever more vivid bit-players as the central character swims ever more out of focus, but they don’t seem to know him either. The more autobiographies he writes, the less anybody knows.

Like Gatsby presiding over his wild, lavish parties, Obama is aloof and remote: let everyone else rave deliriously; he just has to be. He is, in his way, the apotheosis of the Age of American Incredibility. When just being who you are anyway is an incredible accomplishment, Obama managed to run and win on biography almost entirely unmoored from life. But then, like Gatsby, he knew a thing or two about “the unreality of reality.”


Man Men’s Don Draper is a sort Gatsby-as-everyman; he’s not quite as wealthy as Jay Gatsby, and while his duplex Manhattan apartment in the new season is certainly swank, it’s not exactly a mansion on Long Island’s North Shore. But the idea that one can be born dirt poor in the heartland and reinvent yourself to reach the top of New York society is certainly similar. As I wrote in July of 2008, Obama is the very personification of Mad Men’s identikit philosophy, espoused in the show’s first season by Robert Morse’s Bert Cooper character:

“A man is whatever room he is in” — that’s a remarkably timely phrase right about now, isn’t it?

It’s even more so, seeing the Ministry of Truth-level airbrushing that Obama has done to his biography over the years. In 2008, like Don Draper, Obama at his best was a master salesman, and both are handsome men who know their way around a Lucky, a Brooks Brothers suit, and a skinny tie. But in real-life, the best ad men know that the product has to be equal to the ad campaign, or customer disappointment will be palpable. Or as Mad Men series advisor Jerry Della Femina wrote over 40 years ago in his classic book on advertising, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-Line Dispatches from the Advertising War:

There is a great deal of advertising that’s better than the product. When that happens, all that the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster. There have been cases where the product had to come up to the advertising but when the product fails to do that, the advertiser will eventually run into a lot of trouble.


A few years later, Cavett Robert, the founder of the National Speaker’s Association would advise clients in his profession, “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to promote, until you get good. Otherwise you just speed up the rate at which the world finds out you’re no good.” That’s the story of Edward Klein’s new book, The Amateur. Each chapter is features a different liberal clique (such as black and Jewish voters) or elitists (Oprah and the Kennedy clan) who embraced Obama in 2008, only to find out that they were sold a bill of goods, that Obama was only in it for himself, and that Obama either didn’t understand how Washington worked, or thought that through sheer force of ego, he could bend it to his will. Here’s a representative sample, early on in Klein’s book:

Shortly after Obama entered the White House, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned him, “Your legacy is going to be preventing the second Great Depression.” To which Obama boasted, “That’s not enough for me.”

* * * * * * * *

On the evening of Tuesday, June 30, 2009, Barack Obama invited nine like-minded liberal historians to have dinner with him in the Family Quarters of the White House. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, personally delivered the invitations to each historian with a word of caution: the dinner was to remain private and off the record….At the time of this dinner, Barack Obama was still enjoying a honeymoon period with the American people. According to the most recent Gallup Poll, 63 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing. Not surprisingly, he was in an expansive mood as he tucked into his lamb chops and went around the table questioning each historian by name—Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss, Robert Caro, Robert Dallek, David Brinkley, H. W. Brands, David Kennedy, Kenneth Mack, and Gary Wills.

* * * * * * * *

Tonight, in front of nine prominent American historians, Obama wasn’t shy about flaunting his famous self-confidence. He intended to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and create a permanent peace in the Middle East. He would open a constructive dialogue with America’s enemies in Iran and North Korea and, through his powers of persuasion, help them see the error of their ways. He’d pass legislation in Washington to revolutionize the country’s healthcare system and energy policy. And he’d inject the regulatory hand of the federal government into the American economy in an effort to create “a more just and equitable society.” When several of the historians brought up the difficulties that Lyndon Johnson had faced trying to wage a foreign war while implementing an ambitious domestic agenda, Obama grew testy. He knew better. He could prevail by the force of his personality. He could solve the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, put millions of people back to work, redistribute wealth, withdraw from Iraq, and reconcile the United States to a less dominant role in the world.

It was, by any measure, a breathtaking display of narcissistic grandiosity from a man whose entire political curriculum vitae consisted of seven undistinguished years in the Illinois Senate, two mostly absent years in the United States Senate, and five months and ten days in the White House. Unintentionally, Obama revealed the characteristics that made him totally unsuited for the presidency and that would doom him to failure: his extreme haughtiness and excessive pride; his ideological bent as a far-left corporatist; and his astounding amateurism.


Compare that Hindenburg-sized level of hubris to the ad that Mitt Romney’s campaign rolled out today, to broach the idea of President Romney’s first day in office (as Mollie Hemingway asks at Ricochet, “Did You Just Say ‘President Romney?'”) No Styrofoam columns and lowering of the Red Sea here, in contrast, doable initial achievements:


Beyond the laundry list, there’s the tone of the ad. Perhaps Hugh Hewitt should reissue his 2007 book which invites us to imagine A Mormon in the White House under a new title: A Grown-Up in the White House.

It would make for a refreshing change. But do the American people want one there again?

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