July 28, 2008
The Operative Term is 'Hubris'By J.R. Dunn
He has a seat on his campaign aircraft marked "president". He has taken a shot at creating his own presidential seal, complete with Latin motto. He has laid claim to personal control over the world's oceans and seas. He has repeatedly attempted to dictate how and on what level he, his ideas, and his activities may be discussed. He has encouraged a portrayal of himself as a messianic figure, including a portrait of himself as Christ, complete with halo. He is even now completing a triumphant grand tour of the old world, during which he attempted to shanghai an ancient monument for personal use without consulting the host government.
The operative term here is "hubris". A word of Attic Greek origin, hubris was a major concept animating classical Greek thought. Hubris is overweening pride, an arrogance so profound and so visible as to affront the gods themselves. Hubris was a quality often identified with Greek tragic heroes. The hero allowed simple human pride in his accomplishments and station to burgeon to offensive proportions, at which point the wheels of fate began rolling. The ending was never good -- the valiant Ajax stabs himself to death at a lonely spot, the kingly Oedipus is transformed into a howling, self-blinded wreck.
Barack Obama embodies hubris in chemically pure form. Not that he's a tragic hero, or a hero of any sort, to anyone apart from his deluded legions of college freshmen. Beyond cleaning Hillary's clock, he has no accomplishments to speak of, and as for his station... A glance at Trent Lott, Robert Byrd, and Ted Kennedy clearly reveals that "U.S. senator" is not a position of particular pride.
But even if he hasn't founded cities, destroyed monsters, or led men into battle, Obama does share one quality with the heroes of the ancient world: an absolute conviction that he is superior to the ordinary run of humanity. Like them, Obama believes himself a man of destiny, and like them, Obama will go over the edge.
The only question is whether he gets to take the country with him.
He's nearly blown himself up several times previously. In the case of Jeremiah Wright, he felt himself so far above the controversy that he failed to so much as acknowledge it until it had already boiled over, leaving him no choice but to repudiate his longtime mentor. More recently he went so far as to accuse one of the oldest and most liberal publications in the country of impiety. There is no other word for it -- the entire case against The New Yorker was based on the premise that Barack Obama, of all living individuals, is beyond the reach of satire due to the sacredness of his person, a claim never, to my knowledge, made in a previous American election.
Over the past week, he has thrust himself into negotiations with a crucial American client, a client even now involved in the final stages of a lengthy and debilitating war, for the sole purpose of bolstering his campaign. Again, it's impossible to think of a previous candidate who ever behaved in this fashion.
All these incidents -- and plenty of others that could be mentioned -- mark the steps taken toward catastrophe. Obama is edging closer and closer to his climactic moment.
The American public appears to grasp this. Despite his robotic legion of followers, despite the hysterical adulation of the media, despite John McCain being cut off from customary media outlets, doubts about Obama appear to be dominant. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows him holding only a 5 point lead over McCain after a week of spectacular, loving media coverage abroad. If we factor in the hypothesized Bradley-Wilder effect -- that 5 to 10% of those polled are prevaricating in favor of Obama to avoid implications of racism -- means that Obama is in fact running even or behind.
His organization has to be aware of this. So, in some sense, must Obama himself. But blindness is also a characteristic of the classical tragic figure. The campaign should be moving slowly and carefully, identifying its weaknesses and seeking ways to address them, concentrating on increasing that (perhaps illusory) single-digit lead. Instead, Obama continues his charade, awarding himself foreign triumphs, posing as a figure of world-historical stature, as if the election, perhaps even the inauguration, were merely a ritual. In his own mind, Obama is already president, behaving as he believes a president should, while the voters look on in bewilderment and growing disquiet.
This country has had its share of arrogance and pride in the White House. A man must believe himself a special breed to aim that high in the first place. The Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter come immediately to mind. But none of them -- partially excepting Wilson -- ever gave in to hubris. Teddy Roosevelt waited until he was out of office to go off, wrecking the 1912 election in the process. FDR, throughout his Augustan three-plus terms as president, never quite crossed the line. (This is in keeping with the rest of his record -- it is in his negative attributes (that he was not a tyrant, that he did not take personal advantage, that he was not vindictive) -- that FDR shines most brightly.) Carter collapsed in the face of the challenges awaiting him, becoming the most abject of modern presidents.
Only Wilson who let his vanity and arrogance run away with him, overcome with the messianic conviction that it was he, and only he, who could lead the world into a new age by means of his League of Nations. Instead he simply assured the outbreak of a war whose viciousness and destruction put all others in the shade. And didn't Wilson end up much like a figure of classic tragedy himself? A ghostly, bearded invalid haunting the corridors of the White House, never seen in public, dependent on his wife to assure that his wishes were carried out?
Wilson can stand as a warning, if not to Obama, then to the rest of us. Obama is too proud and too blind. He will continue in his solipsistic dance until the machinery of fate intervenes.
What form it will take is impossible to say. These situations build up grain by grain until a critical mass is at last reached. Obama is piling up those grains daily, with each display of aloofness, refusal to obey established protocol, and assumption of powers that do not yet belong to him. The final straw could be the most trivial of incidents, blown up all out of proportion to its importance simply due to its being the end of a series (recall one recent political powerhouse whose destruction was encompassed by a complaint over his seat on an airplane - an airplane he shouldn't have been aboard in the first place).
What we can be sure of is that Obama will not avoid the final reckoning. The last, and strangest, characteristic of the victim of hubris is that he appears to welcome his fate, almost embracing it, cooperating in his own downfall. So it will be with Barack Obama. But he must not be allowed to take the country with him.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.