Saturday, January 24, 2009




How dazzling is President Obama?

So dazzling that he didn't merely give a dazzling inaugural speech.

Any old timeserving hack could do that.

Instead, he had the sheer genius to give a flat dull speech full of the usual shopworn boilerplate. Brilliant! At a stroke, he not only gently lowered the expectations of those millions of Americans and billions around the world for whom his triumphant ascendancy is the only thing that gives their drab little lives any meaning, but he also emphasized continuity by placing his own unprecedented incandescent megastar cool squarely within the tradition of squaresville yawneroo white middle-aged plonking mediocrities who came before him.

At a stroke – OK, that's two strokes, like an Italian moped, but that just shows how cosmopolitan he is – anyway, Obama artfully charted a middle course between the Scylla of unmeetable expectations and the Charybdis of his own charisma and chugged instead in the placid rhetorical shallows of "gathering clouds," "raging storms," "icy currents"… In a speech on climate change, this would send the crowd fleeing in terror to hole up in the hills and forage for berries. But, in an inaugural address, this was Obama's most inspired gambit yet. Only a truly great leader would have the courage to reach for the skies in such leaden and earthbound prose.

Oh, well. So much for the consensus of the expert analysts. Meanwhile, The New Yorker put him on the cover dressed as George Washington – a Founding Father for a new America! Disdaining such insulting and belittling comparisons to discredited old slaveowners with bad teeth and wigs even more obvious than that Illinois governor's, the actress-activist Susan Sarandon compared him with Jesus. "He is a community organizer like Jesus was," she said, "and now we're a community and he can organize us." What sort of community should we be? Surveying the "rapt eyes" of the congregation, Ethan Baron, writing in the Vancouver Province, said he hadn't seen anything like it "since a guy I used to work with brought me to visit his weird sex cult in California." And he meant it as a compliment.

But don't worry, the sex isn't gonna be weird or anything. "Oh, yes, yes, yessssssss, we can!" I whimpered, as his smoldering eyes bored deep into the very core of my being and our souls met and I knew he was the only man who would ever win my heart, a heart beating so fast and loud I could barely hear what he was saying – something about executive orders, I think. "Oh, yes, give me one right now!" I cried, as my palpitating bosom burst the ties of my bodice causing my leg to vibrate so much my bustle fell off.

"Aye, you're a comely lass," said Squire Barack, as my tresses tumbled over my stays and his riding crop fluttered teasingly up my thigh. "But I don't need to go a-wenchin' in the White House Press Room…"

"No, please, good sir," I begged, as he glided past me and gave a saucy wink to the chamber maid from The Washington Post…

Sorry, my mind wandered for a minute. Where was I?

Ah, yes. Government. Kind of boring, isn't it? Who's the Defense Secretary? Yawn. Who cares as long as it isn't Bush's guy? What's that? It isBush's guy? Obama's kept him on?

Heigh-ho. Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter that the new CIA honcho is open-minded on the virtues of waterboarding. Doesn't matter that the new Treasury Secretary who's gonna stick it to those greedy fat cats who don't pay their fair share of taxes is a greedy fat cat who didn't pay his fair share of taxes. If one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble, one night in D.C. makes a cool man boring. But it doesn't matter because Obama's so cool even his boringness is hot.

To mark the inauguration, Ashton Kutcher released a video pledge-a-thon in which various bigtime celebrities, two or three of whom you might even recognize, "pledge to be a servant to our President and to all mankind because together we can, together we are, and together we will be the change that we seek." No doubt it sounds better when Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston are bellowing it as an all-star power ballad. It was when the celebrity O-bots started fleshing out the program that it all got more problematic: One celeb pledges to buy a hybrid. Another pledges to only flush the toilet after a, er …well, let's not get into that. And most of the rest just pledge to support programs to "emphasize the importance of raising the awareness of finding mentors to promote voices to speak out for arts education mentoring in our schools" (as the blogger Iowahawk paraphrased it). It was all very back-to-the-Nineties, a time when Bill Clinton declared that the era of Big Government was over and we seemed on the brink of a golden era of a billion gazillion bits of tiny itsy-bitsy micro-government that cumulatively add up to the biggest government you've ever seen.

And if this were 1993 again that just might do. But it's not, and perhaps the silliest part of the new president's speech was this: "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Put aside the bitter partisanship, so "childish" and "petty," and we can all be grown up about this and do the things that need to be done. The idea of a politics conducted within less ideological and more technocratic bounds is seductive. It's how things work in much of Europe: You have a choice between a left-of-center candidate and an ever so slightly right-of-left-of-center candidate, and, regardless of which one you plump for, you wind up with the same old smidgeonette right-of-left-of-right-of-left-of-center government. The result has been to deliver a society of permanent high unemployment, unaffordable entitlements and deathbed demographics – even before the economic downturn put more immediate question marks over the future. As Obama was inaugurated, rioters were besieging their parliaments in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria, the beginnings of a civil unrest that will spread inward from the fringes of the European map. Unlike Ashton Kutcher, these people are not worried about arts education mentoring.

Ideas are the energy in politics, and on health care, Social Security, war, immigration and much else this country could use more. Instead, the moribund U.S. media – a very good example of what happens when stultifying conformity becomes your be all and end all – are urging us to fall in line: "Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of 'petty grievances,'" reported The Washington Post, "President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support."

Ah, yes. How "petty" these losers are to have concerns about a trillion bucks in spending. Fortunately, Obama will stay cool, though hopefully not in the Icelandic sense.

Obama raises heart rates, lowers expectations
His boring inaugural doesn't diminish his hotness in the eyes of his usual acolytes.
Syndicated columnist

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