The Great and Powerful Ob
Crossposted from Asia Times
The “Wizard of Oz” is the best single-source explanation of American politics. Specialists, to be sure, will want to read the Federalist papers, de Tocqueville and the speeches of Lincoln, but the 1939 MGM movie tells most of the story. We are a nation of scarecrows without a brain, tin men without a heart, and lions without courage. Nothing is going to fix us, but the next best thing is to feel better about ourselves. A broken-down carnival huckster impersonating the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz gives our three national archetypes not what they need, but the next best thing: A phony diploma, a testimonial, and a medal. The party favors don’t help the feckless trio (the Scarecrow proceeds to recite a comically mistaken formula for the length of the sides of an isosceles triangle) but they did wonders for their self-esteem.
America is a winner’s game. America succeeds because it breeds success and ruthlessly crushes failure. A main purpose of American politics, in turn, is to make losers feel better, without, of course, preventing them from losing. No president in American history more closely resembles the Wizard than Ob the Great and Powerful, the present occupant of the Oval Office. Self-esteem is America’s consolation prize and Obama spreads it with a shovel.
Six years after America inaugurated its first African-American president, the social condition of black Americans remains dismal and appears to be deteriorating. 49% of black males have been arrested by the age of 23; a third of black males will probably spend time behind bars. 54% of black men graduate from high school vs. more than 75% of whites. Only 14% of black eighth graders score at or above the threshold of proficiency. And nearly three-quarters of black births are to unmarried mothers. On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, these are catastrophic results. Magical thinking now infects what was in the past a civil rights movement, for example the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan adopted from an incident that Obama’s Justice Department proved never to have happened.
Hypocrisy of this sort plays well in America. It began with the beaten South, which lost nearly 30% of its military age in men in the Civil War, but earned a romantic image of gallantry in America’s popular culture. Claptrap like “Gone With the Wind” was the Confederacy’s consolation prize, with a revoltingly false portrait of a halcyon era of beautiful belles and elegant balls on antebellum plantations. The slaves’ descendants in their days of woe have been accorded the same, slim consolation. Rather than Scarlett and Rhett, African-Americans have rage-spewing rappers like Obama’s regular White House guest Jay-Z. Meanwhile young black men are fed into the maw of the criminal justice system. And Ob the Great and Powerful is there to hand out diplomas, testimonials and medals.
Hypocrisy is a luxury that America can afford. The number of Americans under judicial supervision (prison, probation or parole) rose from 2 million in 1980 to 7.5 million in 2008, and the violent crime rate fell correspondingly, because so many criminals were locked up. But hypocrisy is a far less effective palliative in the Middle East, now that times have gotten tougher. President Obama evinces the same concern for the supposed victims of imperialism around the world as he does for African-Americans--for example the Persians, who are less imperial victims than the rancorous remnant of a failed empire. His concern for the welfare of the Persians is almost child-like; in a sense it is child-like, for it is the concern of the child of the Bohemian anthropologist Stanley Ann Dunham, who married and divorced two Muslim men, and left young Barry with her parents while she set out to save the ironworkers of Indonesia from globalization. Here is what he broadcast to Iranians on Nowruz, the Persian New Year:
Hello! To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak. For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year. Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House. It was a celebration of the vibrant cultures, food, music and friendship of our many diaspora communities who make extraordinary contributions every day here in the United States. We even created our own Haft Seen (symbolic fruit plate), representing our hopes for the new year…As you gather around the Nowruz table—from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf—you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future…As the poet Hafez wrote, “It is early spring. Try to be joyful in your heart. For many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”
There is no consolation for the Persians, however; their fertility rate has fallen from nearly 7 children per female in 1979 to just 1.6 in 2012, which means that they will have a higher proportion of elderly dependents than the United States a generation from now. After 3,000 years Persian culture has reached its best-used-by-date. The end of traditional society and the education of women has ruined it. Iran knows that it is going to die, and all the schmoozing in the world from an American president will do it no good.
The same sort of hypocrisy applies to Obama’s concern for Palestinian self-esteem. When Obama told the Huffington Post March 21 that Netanyahu had placed a strain on Israel’s democratic fabric, he did not refer merely to the prime minister’s factual campaign statement to the effect that foreign-financed campaign organizations were bringing large numbers of Arab voters to the polls. He meant (as Dana Milbank made clear in a March 22 op-ed in the Washington Post):
Without a Palestinian state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy but not both. If it annexes the Palestinian territories and remains democratic, it will be split roughly evenly between Jews and Arabs; if it annexes the territories and suppresses the rights of Arabs, it ceases to be democratic. There are roughly 4.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and another 1.4 million living inside Israel . That puts them in rough parity with Jews, who number just over 6 million. Higher Palestinian population growth and fertility rates indicate that Jews will be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in a few years.
This is simply false: close examination of Palestinian statistics (e.g., comparison of actual birth and school registration records against the computer model output of the Palestinian authority) shows that the Palestinian population data are inflated by about 1.4 million. With the Jewish birth rate and the Arab birth rate between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea converging on 3 children per female, there will be no significant change in relative population in the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, what Obama means, quite simply, is that any outcome other than the establishment of a Palestinian state will be “undemocratic.” That is an act of hypocrisy Israel cannot afford. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon undertook perhaps the most hypocritical act in Israeli history, withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. Sharon expected the result to be catastrophic, but hoped that the ensuing mess would persuade the world that Israel could not afford to give up more territory. Hypocrisy breeds hypocrisy, though, and Sharon vastly underestimated the world’s capacity to ignore the obvious.
There is an old country joke about the shtetl family that invites a poor man to Shabbat dinner. The hostess brings out a dish of whitefish, and the poor man proceeds to gobble it up. The hostess, somewhat chagrined, says gently, “Whitefish is very expensive,” to which the poor man replies, “Believe me, it’s worth it!” From the vantage point of the utopians in Obama’s camarilla—Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Valerie Jarrett and Ben Rhodes—allowing Hamas to turn Judea and Samaria into an artillery platform is worth it. They identify with failed or failing peoples, and cannot live with the knowledge that civilizations die out for the most part because they want to.
Israel’s election was in effect a referendum on the two-state solution, I argued earlier in this publication. Netanyahu had to tell the truth to his own base to persuade them to vote for him, and he told them that under foreseeable circumstances a Palestinian state simply would not happen—not while Mahmoud Abbas survives on the support of the Israeli Army, and Iran is sending weapons to Hamas, and the surrounding countries (especially Syria) have disintegrated into chaos and polarized radicalism. Israel’s national fund of hypocrisy, already depleted by Ariel Sharon’s profligacy in 2005, was exhausted.
Nothing that Mr. Netanyahu can do will placate the Great and Powerful Ob. It may be painful and in some ways damaging, but he has no choice but to ignore the man behind the curtain.