Our 'Face in the Crowd'


Elia Kazan’s classic A Face in the Crowd is a good primer on Barack Obama’s rise and fall. Lonesome Rhodes arises out of nowhere in the 1957 film, romancing the nation as a phony populist who serially spins yarns in the most folksy ways -- confident that he should never be held to account. Kazan’s point (in the film Rhodes is a patsy for conservative business interests) is that the “folks” are fickle and prefer to be charmed rather than informed and told the truth. Rhodes’s new first name, Lonesome, resonates in the film in a way that Barack does now. Finally, an open mic captures Rhodes’s true disdain for the people he champions, and his career crashes.

So what is collapsing the presidency of the once mellifluous Obama? It is not the IRS, AP, VA, or NSA scandals. Nor did the nation especially fault him for Benghazi or the complete collapse of U.S. foreign policy, from failed reset to a Middle East afire. In each case, he either blamed Bush or denied there was a smidgeon of wrongdoing on his part.

Certainly, the stampede at the border, as disastrous as it was, did not ipso facto sink Obama’s ratings. Ditto the embarrassing Bergdahl deal, in which we traded a likely deserter for five Islamist kingpins. Was it the ISIS ascendance that is leading to genocide and a nascent caliphate? Not in and of itself.

We could go on, but you get the picture that it was all of the above that finally became too much, as Americans turned Obama off because they were all lied out. In all of these scandals a charismatic Barack wheeled out the teleprompter, smiled, dropped his g’s, soared with “make no mistake about it” and “let me perfectly clear,” and then, like Lonesome Rhodes, told the “folks” things that could not be true or at least were the exact opposite of what he himself had earlier asserted.

The result is that should Obama claim again that he is going to lower the seas, cool the planet, or that he is the man whom we are waiting for, Americans would laugh. They would chuckle about more promised recoveries, millions of new green jobs, an expanding economy, or a safer world abroad. Again, we are just too lied out to believe anything our slick version of Lonesome Rhodes says anymore. And that fact may best explain his 39-41% approval rating.

Barack Obama is once again lamenting the charge that he is responsible for pulling all U.S. peacekeepers out of Iraq, claiming that the prior administration is culpable. But Obama negotiated the withdrawal himself. We know that not because of right-wing talking points, but because of the proud serial claims of reelection candidate Obama in 2011 and 2012 that he deserved credit for leaving Iraq. That complete pullout prompted Joe Biden to claim the Iraq policy was the administration’s likely "greatest achievement" and buoyed Obama to brag that he was leaving a stable and secure Iraq. Think of the logic: pulling all soldiers out of Iraq was such a great thing that I now can brag that I am not responsible for it.