Mugger: Great Black Hope

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Earlier this year I had the daft notion that no matter who won November’s presidential election, Barack Obama or John McCain, the political rancor that’s divided the country since Bill Clinton’s administration—and exacerbated greatly by the immediate, pre-Iraq, pre-Katrina loathing of George W. Bush—would dissipate and people would no longer risk rupturing friendships by debating current events in Washington, D.C. After all, even economic conservatives like myself couldn’t deny the extraordinary charm of Obama, his ability to attract immense crowds populated by rhapsodic citizens of all ages and, perhaps most significantly, the first-term senator’s writing and rhetorical skills. On the other side, it was believable that Democrats wouldn’t be entirely apoplectic if McCain prevailed, since he’s a crusty old bird who’s unpredictable and would probably serve just four years.

How incredibly naive for as is now apparent, if Obama loses (unlikely, but not out of the question), especially by a small margin, there’s sure to be a firestorm from the Left that will make the Florida recount of 2000 seem like a student- council election. Obama, of course, is seen as—finally!—the president who will return the United States to the halcyon 1,000 days of Camelot when John F. Kennedy brought to the White House not only “vigah” but a sense of optimism.

Never mind that had Richard Nixon, with the shift of a few hundred thousand votes in key states, won the 1960 election there would’ve been disappointment among his supporters but no great surprise. It doesn’t matter that Kennedy was a hawk, a fiscal conservative and, as a surrogate for his father’s dashed ambitions, a rather grubby politician. All that changed when he was assassinated; and ever since then Democrats have tried in vain to recreate his (largely retrospective) charismatic leadership.

In my discussions with friends under the age of 30—including one of my kids—who are enthusiastically plumping for Obama, they continuously compare the “post-racial” candidate to the Kennedy brothers (the inspirational ones, not Teddy), exclaiming that a new dawn is coming to America. I find this fairly comical—although keeping those thoughts private, since I already have a list of professional enemies that could fill the Manhattan white pages—since what they know about the 1960s is gleaned from lefty professors or nostalgic parents. 

Sam Anderson, in a June 22 New York article (“Raise High the Rafters”), in which he gives a “rhetorical analysis” of Obama’s upcoming nomination acceptance speech in Denver later this summer, traces the senator’s rapid canonization, as many have, to his convention speech in support of “droopy” John Kerry four years ago.

“In 10 minutes,” he writes, “America watched [Obama] rip off the rumpled suit of anonymous, mild-mannered state-senatorhood and squeeze into the gaudy cape and tights of our national oratorical superhero—a honey-tongued Frankenfusion of Lincoln, Gandhi, Cicero, Jesus, and all our most cherished national acronyms (MLK, JFK, RFK, FDR).” That Anderson doesn’t include Ronald Reagan in the pantheon is telling enough, but most of all, this guy isn’t kidding, saying that Obama has “justified much of the hype.” At least he was right about Kerry.

If a huge number of Americans really do believe this sort of unprecedented hyperbole, a McCain inauguration next January might actually result in mayhem. The rejection of a modern-day combination of Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi and Cicero just won’t be tolerated. Already, despite some quibbles about Obama revealing his shrewd, if not uncommon, strategy of tacking to the center for the fall election—FISA, Iraq, the death penalty, gay marriage, etc.—even the devotees of Pied Piper Kos don’t believe for a second that once in office he’ll chuck all the “Yes We Can” jargon aside and assume the role of the world’s most respected leader, allowing Americans to travel abroad once more without fear of condemnation from morally superior Europeans.

The cover of Rolling Stone’s July 10 issue encapsulates the hysteria over Obama. Granted, that magazine has been in a state of unlamented rigor mortis ever since it left San Francisco for New York in 1976, hopping on the Jimmy Carter bandwagon. But as a cultural artifact it can’t be dismissed as merely owner Jann Wenner’s unquenchable star-fucking. The cover is stripped of the usual headlines—no tease of a Rush or Eagles reunion—and simply features a beatific, Jesus-like photo of Obama (wearing an American flag pin) with a winning smile and closed eyes.

Inside, Wenner’s interview with the probable next commander-in-chief is stomach churning, a pastiche of music chatter and suck-up questions. Wenner, who’s often described as the quintessential example of a narcissistic Boomer, undoubtedly at one time dreamed of becoming America’s first “rock-and-roll president” (a baton he passed on, inexplicably, to Fleetwood Mac fan Bill Clinton in 1992). But as his personal baggage precluded a run for office, he’s a self-appointed kingmaker instead. Obviously, he has lots of company in that role—it could be, right now, there are more kings than peasants in the Democratic Party and media—but Wenner has no shame.

The magazine proprietor writes in his introduction about how refreshing it was that on the chartered 757 campaign plane (where he interviewed Obama) that there was no first-class seating, not even for the modern-day Cicero. No mention of carbon footprints, naturally. Wenner’s second question (which reminds me of a ’93 White House interview he conducted with Clinton in which he twice asked the grumpy president if he was “having fun”) was about Obama’s favorite songs by Bob Dylan. Americans will be captivated, and reassured, that the Chicago pol has the entirety of Blood on the Tracks on his iPod, as well as Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Elton John and the Stones.

No interview, even a softball one like this, in which Wenner concludes by telling Obama, “Good luck. We are following you daily with great hope and admiration,” would be complete without a meaningful discussion about Bruce Springsteen.

Wenner: “And you call him the Boss?”

Obama: “You’ve got to.”

The candidate goes on to exclaim, “Bruce” is, as Wenner might say, “the shit.” Less colloquially, Obama gushes, “Not only do I love Bruce’s music, but I just love him as a person. He is a guy who has never lost track of his roots, who knows who he is, who has never put on a front.” I guess Mr. Barack hasn’t given Springsteen’s poignant “Brilliant Disguise” many listens, since the wealthy singer bares in that song his mixed-up confusion in the wake of his first marriage’s dissolution.

Oh, and then Obama adds, “We haven’t actually met in person.”

As I’ve written before, I hope that McCain pulls off a minor miracle and becomes president next year; but if he doesn’t, I’m already resigned to an Obama presidency, which promises to be entertaining and intellectually stimulating, if very scary on the foreign policy and economic front. I’m just so relieved that Hillary Clinton won’t occupy the Oval Office (and probably won’t ever be invited for an informal chat) that I can live with the results. But as the hype among Obama’s media enablers builds and builds and builds, I don’t think my Democrat friends will be quite as sanguine should their man lose.

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