Obama's Fall from Grace
Reportage of last week's Nelson Mandela funeral reveals clearly enough that President Obama has reached the point in his tenure where everything ceases to go right -- when even the most serious and determined efforts deteriorate into a hash, or worse, a joke.
This happens to everyone in public life eventually, politicians above all. The original attraction wears thin, flaws appear more prominently, styles and opinions change. There is little the individual can do to avoid this. (That includes sending out your own propaganda photos.) They instead must soldier on, depending on character, maturity, and seriousness of purpose -- ideologically or politically -- to pull through it.
The Mandela funeral shows that Obama is deep into this phase of his career, and has landed on his head. The selfie, along with the other contretemps involving poor Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, had the aura of a sitcom farce. Less appealing were the handshakes with Robert Mugabe and Raul Castro. And to top it all off, he got himself placed within arm's length of a raving lunatic -- and possible murderer -- somehow hired as a sign interpreter, who not only messed up his assignment but also saw angels wandering around the stadium. (As if you'd ever get angels in the same place as a gaggle of politicians.)
Much of this was his own fault. The Mandela funeral should have been an easy grounder, but Obama blew it off. Nobody asked him to play the fool at a solemn occasion like a funeral (though Michelle, who has never learned how to act like a first lady, shares plenty of blame. Can anybody imagine either of the Bush ladies changing seats with her husband to get him away from the pretty blonde?) The man who bowed his way across the earth only four years ago should have learned to be careful whom he greets, and how, particularly as involves such unattractive figures as Mugabe and Castro. While Obama couldn't help being posed next to the maniac (his gracious and efficient South African hosts can take credit for that), it's characteristic of this kind of phase that Murphy's Law rules: anything that can go wrong, will, with the public blaming it not on Murphy, the fates, or the Furies, but on the victim himself. If Obama were struck by a meteor, it wouldn't be "bad luck", but, "There he goes again."
All this is long overdue. Considering his record -- the grotesque series of bows, the endless and excessive golf expeditions, the various errors and malapropisms of the "57 states" and "corpse-man" varieties, his pretense that everything that happens on his watch is as great a surprise to him as to anyone (Golly -- the NSA and IRS were doing what?) -- it should have happened long ago. Only constant media intervention (which still occurs -- the Mugabe handshake, while covered in Europe, went down the U.S. media memory hole) and his status as the first black president, which automatically lent him the mantle of such heroic and dignified figures as Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, have protected him. But even this lasts only so long. The spell is now broken, and it's about time.
It's been a while since we've had a clown president. The most recent Republican presidents were spared that, despite desperate efforts by the media. Though Bill Clinton skirted that level (not a pun, I swear -- it came out that way) at several points of his presidency, he was well-liked enough to be viewed as a lovable scamp as opposed to a dirty-minded loser. Public attitudes toward Jimmy Carter went from good will to puzzlement to contempt without any comic interlude. It was Jerry Ford who was the last president to have the jackass tail pinned on him. Though one of the most athletic and fit of all presidents (he'd once played serious football), he had the misfortune to be caught on film falling down aircraft steps among similar mishaps. His reputation as a klutz was reinforced by a forgotten comic named Chevy Chase, at the time a leading light of Saturday Night Live, who shot to brief stardom thanks to his Ford imitations. (To give you a further idea as to how this works, Ford was at the time also being stalked by several demented female assassins, including no less than Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, chief advisor to Charles Manson, who attempted to kill Ford while dressed up in bright-red nun's robes. None of these close calls gained Ford any sympathy, but were instead viewed as part of his act.)
How does a serious president handle this? He steps out of the spotlight, curtails the golf games with celebrities, persuades the wife to postpone further multi-million dollar vacations, abjures any serious or epoch-making speeches or public efforts. He lets other, lesser figures carry the public load for awhile. At all accounts, he makes no attempt to battle fate. This, in the long run, served Jerry Ford -- and in fact, every consequent GOP president -- quite handily. (Bill Clinton, on the other hand, nearly sank his presidency late in his first term with a silly news conference proclaiming that "the Constitution gives me relevance.")
This strategy would very likely work for the current chief executive as well. But I ask you -- does any of that sound like Barack Obama?
He can't back out of sight because of a little thing called "ObamaCare." He let the help handle that and it didn't work. Now it's attached as firmly as a ball and chain, and since he lacks both the grace and wit to cut his losses, it will dog his presidency for all the time that's left to it.
There's also the fact that he's been carried by media, mentor figures, and more shadowy elements all the way back to his stint at Harvard. It's not that he's grown to believe his own PR, but that he's never believed anything else. There is no depth to Obama -- the public figure is all you get, and anything that threatens the image threatens the whole man. So he will flail, and protest, and posture -- looking more asinine all the time. Look for plenty of PR events -- momentous speeches, vast promises, attempts to pull on the mantle of greater men, mountains giving birth to mice.
And how should the opposition handle it? Nothing simpler -- hammer it. Don't let an opportunity pass. Don't let him get away with anything. This is a God-given rent in virtual armor that many thought was utterly impregnable. We need to take as much advantage of it as possible.
Shortly we'll begin hearing from the more stiff media figures -- the fake-studious elder-statesmen types kept in reserve for such emergencies -- that it's a dangerous thing to have a nonfunctioning presidency, that enemies may take advantage, that a crisis could erupt, that we should renew our support and on and on.
A functioning president? We haven't had one of those since 2008. The old boys with grim frowns are perfectly correct, if a bit late -- our enemies have taken advantage, there have been crises -- in Iran, North Korea, Benghazi, Georgia, Syria -- and nothing much has been done because the important thing, the crucial thing, was to keep the Obama persona intact and undamaged.
Now the persona is evaporating, under the impact of laughter on the one hand and sheer horror at the results of Obama's incompetence (in health care today, in foreign policy next week) And that's a good thing. Because nothing was being done, and nothing was ever going to be done. There's a certain value in knowing how bad things actually are.
When the crises come -- the inevitable one involving packed ERs, shuttered hospitals, and hundreds or thousands of deaths beginning this January, and the still vague but foreboding possibilities when war season opens next Spring -- we'll know where not to turn, and what not to expect.
It's a simple and undeniable truth: you don't turn to clowns in an emergency.
It's been a long time since we've seen a false messiah fall from his pedestal into the hands of the mob, so long that we've forgotten exactly how it occurs. But we're going to find out. I, for one, am looking forward to it.