A Second American Sphinx
Roger L. Simon checks in from AIPAC to say:
Before Sunday morning, I had never seen Barack Obama in person. Of course, I had seen him on television roughly as often as Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse combined, but the man himself had eluded my eyes.
Not that seeing him with approximately 13,000 other AIPAC attendees and press (not sure exactly how many were there, but most) in the Washington Convention Center constitutes anybody’s version of “up close and personal.” But I am forced to admit — and you can put this down to the power of preconceptions, if you wish — that catching our president in the flesh only confirmed what I had long thought of him from afar.
This is one strange dude — part narcissist, part Chicago ward heeler, part neo-Alinskyite marxist, part talk show host smoothie, part nowhere man.
Is there such a thing as a normal man becoming President? The closest thing we've had to a normal guy in the Oval Office in my lifetime was George W. Bush -- and it didn't exactly make him any more of a success. And you still have to wonder how much of his seeming normalcy was affect, persona.
Indeed, only 43 men have ever held the office, meaning that just to be President is already to be an extreme outlier. But to me at least, President Obama seems stranger than most.
Maybe it's because of his odd childhood. Abandoned by his father, a wandering hippie mother, Marxist grandparents, the strange childhood combination of privilege and need. Obama is from America, but he isn't of America -- which is a phrase I'm pretty sure I stole from another writer, but cannot find.
Roger maybe hit it closest to the mark with this next bit:
The ideas might be there, traceable back to Ayers, Dohrn, and Reverend Wright, but he has pushed them far away, almost as if he were trying to forget them. They were no longer functional and had to go, but he is left with… what?
If there's anything Obama shares with his predecessor, it's his stubborn (disastrous, really) inability to learn from experience. Both Bush and Obama are Level 20 masters of political hardball. Witness what Bush & Rove did to John Kerry in 2004, and compare it to the Social Issue Judo that Obama & Axelrod are using against the entire GOP field right this minute.
But neither man seems able to comprehend the difference between standing firm and tying one's own boots to the railroad tracks. Bush refused to budge on Iraq until after the disastrous 2006 election, and Obama can't move himself even an inch away from from his reflexive Corporatism, despite three years of economic stasis (or worse).
There's no real solution to the problem of all these strange men getting themselves elected. I'm not offering anything new when I remind you that the presidency is not a job any normal person would want. Even if my libertarian dreams all came true, and Washington shrank down to the size of a sleepy midwestern state capital, that fact would remain unchanged. There's just one Resolute desk, and there are 310,000,000 Americans -- the ferocity of the competition for the job would prevent any normal person from winning the race.
But Obama really is "one strange dude." Few friends, no discernible ex-girlfriends, and charm and ruthlessness, elitism and populism, all in equal measure. There hasn't been a political player maybe ever in American history, with Obama's ability to read the playing field and execute a winning election plan. But to what end? Is all that raw intellect and ability devoted to nothing greater than handing out the goodies to favorite constituents and wielding the law like a club against the other side? Or is he a devoted follower of Cloward-Piven, using perfectly-honed Alinskyite tactics to destroy America from the inside? Or is he just another well-intentioned liberal who doesn't know he's paving the road to hell?
Obama's aims, like the man himself, remain unknown -- maybe unknowable.
Joseph Ellis wrote a biography of Thomas Jefferson's character back in the '90s, and he was forced to title it An American Sphinx. It was one of those non-fiction books that, while impressive, when you reached the last page, you weren't sure you didn't know less than when you started. Jefferson's character was impossible to to unravel, even by a talented historian.
When Edmund Morris was tapped to write Ronald Reagan's biography, he found himself flummoxed. Reagan was so difficult to get "close" to, that Morris was forced to insert himself as a character in the book, to give the reader someone, something to latch onto. The result was a disaster -- without a doubt the worst biography I have ever tried to read.
Being there at AIPAC, I'm not sure Roger was any closer to the "real" Obama than I am here in my studio. I'm not sure any of his cabinet secretaries, right there in the White House, are any closer than Roger. Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod -- maybe they've been inside. Michelle, almost certainly. But that's an awfully short list for a man who has lived a very public life. It's enough to give you the feeling that someday, Obama's official biographer will find himself envying Ellis and Morris by comparison.