January 14, 2011
Obama Does Best When He Says NothingBy Jack Cashill
In Tucson, on Wednesday evening, we saw President Barack Obama in his full Chauncey Gardiner mode. After the drubbing of November 2010, Obama's handlers have come to understand that Obama does best when, like Chauncey, he says nothing at all.
Chauncey Gardiner, the reader may recall, is the protagonist of Jerzy Kosinski's 1971 prescient satire, Being There, which was later made into a movie of the same name, co-scripted by Kosinski.
As the plot goes, Chance the Gardener, a sheltered simpleton, finds himself thrust into the world upon the death oh his wealthy protector, his name now misinterpreted as "Chauncey Gardiner."
Forced to interact with society, the supremely bland Chauncey so impresses politicos and the media with banal gardening clichés -- "It is the responsibility of the gardener to adjust to the bad seasons as well as enjoy the good ones" -- that they assume Chauncey means much more than he actually does.
Gardiner's amiable emptiness impresses the president and quickly thrusts him onto the national stage. As he becomes a valued economic advisor -- "In a garden, growth has its season" -- the president decides to review Chance's history. To his horror, he finds that that history, much like Obama's, is entirely elusive.
"What do you mean, no background?" says the president. "That's impossible -- he's a very well known man!" No matter. As book and movie end, Chance is being considered for the presidency of the United States.
In Being There, it was businessman Ben Rand who took Chauncey under his wing and molded him into a national figure. In Illinois, it was David Axelrod who molded Barack Obama. Although Obama had a history, he reached the national stage because Axelrod suppressed it and the media chose not to know it or share it.
What wowed the masses on the campaign trail was Obama's ability to say next to nothing and make it sound as pleasantly ambivalent as Chance did. Indeed, at the start of Obama's Senate career in 2005, Newsweek made Obama its cover boy under the heading "The Color Purple."
This represented a full media buy-in to the conceit Obama had advanced in his God-fearing, flag-waving 2004 convention keynote speech. There, he ceremoniously rejected the blue state-red state dichotomy and insisted that "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America."
Obama's 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, gave new meaning to the phrase "purple prose." In his otherwise flattering review, Time Magazine's Joe Klein counted no fewer than fifty instances of "excruciatingly judicious on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-handedness" in Audacity. He called the tendency "so pronounced that it almost seems an obsessive-compulsive tic." Of course, Audacity, like the Tucson speech, was thoroughly insincere, a cynical feint to the center.
At Tucson, Obama had the opportunity to address the left's preposterous "blood libel" of the right that followed Saturday's shootings, and at times, he seemed on the verge of doing so before, alas, retreating into butter knife-sharp banality.
"We are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than [sic] we do," he said at one point, but of course he refused to identify those laying the blame or their victims. He continued, "It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."
This past week's slanderers, who know the opposition only in caricature, surely heard that remark and felt vindicated. Yes, we heal. They wound. We love. They hate.
"Hate is not a family value," read the bumper stickers of our progressive friends. Other than perhaps piercing or recycling, they seem to have no more satisfying a pastime than attributing hate to their political enemies.
Obama addressed the issue of blame again later in the speech. "But what we can't do," he said, his fingers firmly crossed, "is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another." That, however, is exactly what the president's allies did do, and they did so with impunity. Obama refused to hold them responsible. To do so would have squandered all the political capital he and they had amassed during the past week.
Under normal circumstances, the president does all that is politically possible to neuter Christianity -- draping the name of Jesus at his Georgetown speech, for instance, or celebrating a "non-religious Christmas" in the White House. At Tucson, he did a passable imitation of Billy Graham.
Obama cited the Psalms on one occasion and Job on another, and he concluded with a salutation so explicitly Judeo-Christian that George Bush would have blushed to deliver it.
"May God bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace," said Obama, the defiantly masculine "He" capitalized in the official transcript. "May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America."
In Being There, when Chance makes his first televised speech, Louise, the maid who helped rear him, weighs in on what she is seeing.
To be fair, Obama learned to read. In fact, he reads with a certain flair. What he never learned to do was write, at least not very well. The principal craftsman behind Audacity, a book produced by committee, was almost surely speechwriter Jon Favreau, who likely penned the Tucson speech as well. What the book and speech have in common is that they are both gobbledegook.
I suppose a sign of progress is that today, even a black man can get to be president on the wings of it -- at least if he sounds like a white liberal.
Jack Cashill's new book, Deconstructing Obama, can be pre-ordered here, with a special offer for American Thinker readers.