January 27, 2009
Signs and Wonders in Week One of the Obama EraBy J.R. Dunn
Last week I enjoyed the honor of having my essay on "Bush and the Bush Haters" featured on both Democratic Underground and Daily Kos. Glancing over the comments (along with those in a similar vein on RealClearPolitics) I saw that with few exceptions, they were the standard run of viciousness, nastiness, and obscenity that we've grown used to from the left in recent years. But there was another quality too, one that took me a little while to identify. What struck me at last was this: the left are not acting like winners.
People basking in a long-sought victory -- a victory that they can bank on -- behave in a certain way. There's a sense of exhilaration, of smugness, of tolerant condescension for the losers. But there's none of that in any of the hardcore left-wing comments. No arrogance, no lofty amusement, but something else entirely, something that can only be characterized as a sense of near-hysteria crossed with frustration. It's an impression of deep insecurity, of people afraid that their triumph is ephemeral and is going to be snatched away from them. In their moment of victory, the American left is no less than desperate.
What have they got to be worried about? They've got a president with a solid, if not resounding victory. With a popularity rating of nearly 70%. A man with control of both houses of Congress, and the world effectively at his feet. A man confident enough to insult the opposition party to their faces while demanding their cooperation. What can possibility taint the victory of Barack Obama?
For starters, let's take a look at Obama's first public effort -- his inauguration. As democratic ceremonials, inaugurations are supposed to be a little ragged around the edges. They're not "coronations" comprised of rituals of a millennium's standing and timed to the last second, much as the European papers like to make the comparison. Like political conventions, they're supposed to carry some of the air of frontiersmen dancing on the tables with the triple-X jug going from hand to hand. But I doubt that even Andrew Jackson or Teddy Roosevelt at their rowdiest ever foresaw an inauguration like this one.
* First there's the oath, the fumble that's fated to go into the books. The Dems and their media pets have blamed this on Chief Justice Roberts, with a dismissive air, as if Roberts is a known halfwit long noted for such gaffes. In fact, the video clearly shows Obama running over Roberts' presentation. A minor error, and one that might even have been charming if not for the characteristically vicious Democratic response. Obama later repeated the oath to make certain he was covered, a pretty sharp move for a guy who never got around to releasing a legible copy of his birth certificate.
*The purple ticket fiasco must have sent a nice sharp tingle of relief through Obama and everybody else involved. Something on the order of three to five thousand spectators became stuck in a tunnel going beneath the Mall, evidently because no one was manning the gate leading to their section. (We don't yet have a complete explanation. D.C. authorities answered with a claim that it never happened. We may as well get used to this.) The crowd was stuck for over three hours, and miraculously, not a toe was trod during that period, an outcome that at least one spectator attributed to O's beneficent spirit.
Now, this is the latest example of the mythic Obama luck in action. Crowds in tunnels are about as touchy as so much plutonium. Even the most stable individual will begin to feel trapped after a few minutes in such a situation, and all that is needed is one or two claustrophobes or neurotics to set off a stampede. This is exactly the kind of situation that causes mass deaths in Mecca during the Hajj year after year. Nothing of the sort occurred this time around, but I'm a little leery of the fact that every move that the Big O makes seems to be predicated on luck, aren't you?
*According to the NY Post's trustworthy and credible Page Six, Mariah Carey is all in a huff over her seating assignment. Evidently, she thought she'd be on the platform, if not in the pres's lap, and went ballistic when she discovered that she'd have to sit with senators and suchlike trash. Now, it's true that she is a diva, and what are divas for but to throw hissy fits? But it seems to me a no-brainer that Obama would in some way want to acknowledge another successful individual of mixed race -- perhaps by making a personal greeting or something similar. This has to be marked as a missed opportunity. Bad staff work on this one.
*Another such slip occurred when Obama failed to appear at the Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball, an event celebrating the country's Medal of Honor awardees. Surely, this could not have been intentional -- it's what happens when you overdo the festivities and have too many things going on at once. But all the same, Obama is the first president to skip the ball since its establishment in 1953. Not good.
*The indispensable Newsbusters gives us a related incident that went unmentioned in every other media outlet. It seems that a promoter named Dante Hayes skipped town after failing to make the arrangements for a promised Veterans Ball, leaving high and dry the hotel, the scheduled bands and performers, and "17 to 25 beauty queens", which must be some kind of record. The event was intended to raise up to $10 million for veteran's causes. How much of that Hayes made off with is uncertain.
Now -- doesn't anyone do a check on these people? Are there no such things as deposits or bonds? This may be a first -- I'm not certain I've ever heard of the like occurring at any previous inauguration. Again, lousy organizational work, and an embarrassing precedent in a week in which O has chosen to hard-pedal ethics.
*Another underreported story involves the response to Obama's making a point of saluting atheists in the line, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers." A number of pastors, largely from black churches, have chosen to protest. It's difficult to grasp how somebody who was raked so badly and repeatedly concerning religion during the campaign would eagerly stick a foot into that bonfire once again, but that's what he did. It's also a bad move to alienate one of your most faithful followings, particularly since one clergyman, Rev. Cecil Blye, took the opportunity to give a well-aimed kick at O's abortion policy.
*And finally we have the market's spectacular kamikaze dive right in the middle of the celebration. This is easily explicable: Obama was supposed to come out and sprinkle fairy dust over the economy, ask everyone to believe real hard, and things would become all better again. For some reason this failed to occur, and Wall Street decided to take a brody.
It's difficult to see, lacking an easy supply of fairy dust, how Obama could have avoided this. But it does underline something that has been overlooked throughout the current slump: the fallacy of the Economic Man argument. Human beings are not economic robots mindlessly following ironclad laws. They are, in Isaiah Berlin's acute formulation, "Kettles that watch themselves come to a boil". Most of the problems of today's economy aren't economic at all, but functions of mass psychology. We'd be far better off if people like Bernanke, Greenspan, and Obama himself weren't continually quoted about how bad things are and how much worse they'll get, if reporters who insist on using the verb "deteriorate" were treated the same as the Iraqi shoe guy, and if the president's entire economic staff were given copies of Canetti's Crowds and Power and Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
All this is nonsense, my fans at DU and Kos will insist. (Or, as one modern Cicero put it, "batshit crazy whining".) A load of trivial incidents strung together at random that mean absolutely nothing. But in truth these things matter far more than we think they do. In 1916, the Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary was leaving his palace for his coronation when the dynasty's two-headed eagle symbol fell clattering to the pavement. Two years later, the Hapsburg Empire was history, and Karl was just another Charley trying to get by amid the ruins of Europe. We were reminded this week by David Warren that, "The liberal mind -- now fully restored to power in the United States -- is in love with symbolic gestures."
Symbols cut both ways, whether the Dems like it or not, and the fact that we've just been through the most messed-up inauguration on record does not bode well for the American Moses.
Obama got through his "perfect campaign" (if we overlook Joe the Plumber, the birth certificate, and the Berlin Speech among other incidents), and the "flawless transition". (Putting to the side Bill Richardson, Blago, and Timothy Geithner) But eventually, despite the media's best efforts, his gaffes are going to catch up with him. (Particularly if he continues pulling things like last week's staring contest in the White House press room -- Mussolini used to do that too.) People are going to begin asking, where is the flawless superman we voted for, where is the miracle worker, where is man with an answer for everything?
Several months ago, I wrote a piece for AT defining Barack Obama as a flake. People have asked me since, do I still believe that?
As the lady said: you betcha.
It's going to be a great four years.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.