Glass jaw, hollow man: Irreparably flawed Obama

by Beacon Staff • March 19, 2008

With a spate of scandals breaking over his head and the press finally scrutinizing his atypical style and associations, it seems Obama has been knocked from his pedestal-at last.,All that glitters is not gold-currently, there's no finer advice for Sen. Barack Obama's adoring legion. It's time to face a hard truth, unblinking foot-kissers: the wispy senator has pulled a fast one.

With a spate of scandals breaking over his head and the press finally scrutinizing his atypical style and associations, it seems Obama has been knocked from his pedestal-at last. A reality check proves that he isn't a miracle worker, a mountain mover or an ironclad knight.

In fact, he isn't much at all, just another lamb mistaken for a lion by deluded Democratic primary goers. If Obama grabs his party's nomination, he'll be on the fast track to joining a legendary club of liberal flops, including one-time luminaries like George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

Democrats are notorious for selecting gentle liberal giants who collapse when pitted against the GOP's ruthless election machine. Their poor vetting skills show: Republicans have won all but three White House contests since 1968, frequently coasting to victory.

If the Democrats continue swooning over the junior senator from Illinois, it'll be another conservative cakewalk this November.

Granted, such a prediction runs contrary to current polling data and "conventional wisdom," but recall that until recently the numbers and leading opinions implied an easy Sen. Clinton victory. The American people have short memories, and the pundits aren't much better.

As of now, Obama remains an OK contender against both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain, but Main Street America hasn't truly met the man and the candidate, and nobody has yet seen him through the lens of Republican propaganda.

Part of the senator's doom was written long ago, by his lunatic pastor Jeremiah Wright, who was caught on tape beseeching God to damn America. Wright is a lousy character, a racialist and a conspiracy twirp who believes, among other things, that our government created HIV/AIDS to suppress minorities. Yet Obama has been a loyal student and friend of his for two decades, and even now will not divorce the angry peddler of victimology.

Now, for a minute, picture this ad: A five-second clip of Pastor Wright railing against the US, juxtaposed with Obama statements lauding his ministry. Why, they'll eat up that black chauvinism in rural Pennsylvania and rustbelt Ohio, in the Florida lowlands and Kentucky foothills.

Consider also Michelle Obama's pathetic admission that she was never proud of America until her husband achieved political stardom.

Consider the senator's bizarre refusal to place hand over heart during the National Anthem at a major Democratic gathering last fall. He defied universal tradition and official regulation (the so-called "Flag Code"), while everyone else on stage, including Sen. Clinton, Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Sen. John Edwards, obeyed the decent custom.

Consider, finally, his distinctly international heritage, his expatriate childhood and his nominally Muslim fathers and relatives.

These may be trivial and even irrelevant, but such "unique" details will undoubtedly be utilized by the opposition to paint Obama as a latent anti-American. That'll cripple him among the often reflexively patriotic working class, especially against the likes of McCain, a bona fide war hero from a decorated military family who has "Born in the U.S.A." practically stamped on his forehead.

Another swiftly falling blow is the spreading realization that Obama isn't the Kennedyesque rhetorician or vanguard politician he's said to be. Despite a number of glowing speaking feats, his tongue's magic is on the wane. It's more apparent everyday that his "oratory"-and quite probably the underlying ideas-rely upon gimmickry, not true gravitas.

The senator is animated but formulaic, spirited but sorely lacking in depth and range. And he bears the stigma of a candidate more interested in pathos than policy, which will hurt him after the clumsy Bush presidency. (McCain, meanwhile, has 25 years of Capitol Hill grit under his fingernails, which will both hurt and help him.)

It's not just that Obama says a lot of the same things a lot of the time-recycling can be forgiven, that's expected-it's that the things he says are often startlingly superficial and self-absorbed.

Commentators regularly note that the senator's speeches are rather lifeless on paper. This makes sense: Take away the rock star swagger, the friendly Midwestern paternalism, and you're left with refried truisms and facile expressions about "change" and "coming together" and "moving forward."

In a pinch, Obama deploys Montessori school pseudo-therapy, or talk show host gibberish: "We need to internalize this idea of excellence. Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent." Is he "borrowing" from Deval Patrick or Montel Williams?

Other days, the lanky politician is more comfortable concocting roundabout folkisms: "A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, 'Huh. It works. It makes sense.'"

If that one doesn't make you wonder, try this on for size: "If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress."

The campaign's very slogan, "Yes We Can!," is directionless, beyond puerile and by itself a complete non-signifier. It points to nothing, and is therefore "excellent"-and disquieting-because as a blank canvas it allows voters to project their own aspirations onto Obama.

"We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For," another thin-at-the-soles slogan, has already elicited chuckles from those who can only laugh at the senator's frustrating reliance on solipsism.

This isn't just a matter of semantics. Obama's repeated failure to steer clear of logical sloth and dime store platitudes suggests real intellectual laziness. He's a sharp wit, sure, but it's possible surfeit early adulation stunted his growth, restricting him to a level of discourse barely fit for a school board race.

For someone thought to have a roving mind, his picturing of America reminds one of Kitty Farmer, the deranged teacher from the film Donnie Darko, who believes all life can be boiled down to "love" or "fear."

Obama has his own emotional dichotomy which attempts to explain the wide and wild American scene. "In the end, that's what this election is about," he enlightened us in 2004. "Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?"

He is still asking the same trite question in the same trite terms-it's either hope and progress (read: him) or fear, cynicism and the old way (read: the other guy...or gal). You're with him or you're with "them." How unifying.

This brings us to the pulse of the matter: Obama's dismaying fixation on abstraction; his fondness for generalities which obscure distinction; his confusing disagreement with disunity; his tendency to marginalize legitimat

e differences by representing them as unnecessary distractions.

These impulses should be familiar: They're standard fare for another idealistic visionary who fuses populist pulp with a narrative dependent entirely upon epic polarities.

His name is George W. Bush, the man who fooled America. Doubtful we'll fall for another trickster this desperate year.