Fearing Obama

"Never take counsel of your fears."
  -- George S. Patton,  War as I Knew It
One of the more puzzling aspects of the public reaction to the ascension of Barack Obama is the abject fear, bordering on sheer terror that he arouses in certain conservative circles.

The internment camps, we're told, are already in operation, ready for dissenters and rebels, in particular AT readers. Swine flu is a bogus crisis, worked up in order to provide an excuse to put the country under martial law. We have ACORN, which is about to be issued with brown shirts, coal-scuttle helmets, and rubber truncheons before being sent to clear the streets (that is, if they can be dragged out of the whorehouses). Organizing for America, effectively Obama's personal fan club, is to be transformed into the equivalent of Cuba's block organizations at best, and the Red Guard or Khmer Rouge at worst.

Then we get to Obama himself. He has been described as an American Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, the Antichrist, and a cyborg sent back in time by Skywatch to keep an eye on Gov. Arnold (Okay, I admit it - I made that one up). He's out to undermine the Constitution, transform the country into a third-world state, overturn the republican system of government, and ignite a civil war. What's more, he has the power to do this in a matter of months. It won't require even a full term of office -- if he's allowed to remain president for even another year, it'll be too late. The country will be gone, one with Babylon and Tyre, a glowing legend dropping over the horizon of time.

Pretty impressive coming from a community organizer.

We know a lot about dictators. We know a lot about them because they have been thick on the ground for the last century or so. The 20th century was the epoch of the tyrants, the "booted commandos", as the historian Jakob Burckhardt called them. They very nearly ran the world off the rails, coming within two battles (Midway and El Alamein) of boxing up the Western democracies. They killed hundreds of millions and turned venerable nations across the globe into wastelands. Considering the damage they caused, we ought to know them a lot better than we do

They all came out of the same box, mentally adroit, emotionally unbalanced, physically tough. They grew up in disrupted and often dysfunctional families. They were usually outcasts or misfits, living as bums (Hitler), professional agitators (Lenin, Trotsky, and Mussolini), or criminals (Stalin). They often served as soldiers (Hitler and Mussolini), an experience which burned the last remnants of humanity out of them. This provides one explanation -- though not a complete one -- for the universal uniform fetish. They were emotionally isolated, viewing humanity as an enemy camp, with only a small group of acolytes worthy of trust. They were paranoid to the point of insanity, unremittingly brutal, often enjoying the torture of their opponents. (Hitler watched films of the July 20 conspirators being executed, while Stalin played endless mind games with his prey.) Commonly autodidacts with no formal education and contempt for actual expertise, they commenced projects beyond the capabilities of their eras and began wars somebody else had to finish -- usually over the dictator's own dead bodies. They appear to have been uniformly obsessed with apocalyptic fantasies. They tended to deteriorate mentally and physically with shocking swiftness -- witness Lenin's strokes, Mussolini's hypochondria, Hitler's medical obsessions and drug addiction, and Stalin's bottle-a-day vodka habit.

Now let's submit Obama to the checklist. Egomaniacal, check. Disrupted family life, check. No formal education... misfit... soldier... physically tough... apocalyptic obsessions... Whoa... where'd we go wrong here? Nothing fits... When we compare Obama to the historical type of the dictator, it simply doesn't come together. Can anyone picture Obama in military fatigues? As we say in Internetland, ROTFLMAO. 

With actual tyrants we get decisiveness, aggressiveness, complete control of government, and a strict ruling hierarchy. With Obama, we get lollygagging, lack of attention, key projects such as the stimulus, cap & trade, and health care farmed out to the likes of Van Jones, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and Zeke Emmanuel, none of whom appear to be reporting to anybody, and a general air of offhandedness. Obama appears to have an undergraduate's conception of how serious work is accomplished: he has all the great ideas; somebody else does the heavy lifting.

Obama has been repeatedly embarrassed over the period of the summer -- cap and trade held hostage, town hall meetings in which his party was slowly roasted over the coals, the defenestration of Van Jones, and being called a liar in front of the Congress, on national television to boot. Yet to my knowledge, not a single one of Obama's enemies -- not even Joe Wilson -- has yet been tossed behind barbed wire. The thug dictators would not have been so laggard. Mussolini would have had them beaten within an inch of their lives, Hitler would have dumped them in a camp, and Stalin would have sent them to the Arctic, along with everybody they ever met just to make sure. Obama lacks this level -- and perhaps any level -- of brutality, cruelty, and viciousness, or even the ruthlessness of the more benign run of authoritarian leader such as Kemal or Mannerheim. If he answered my want ad for "Murderous Tyrant", I'd take one look and tell him, "We'll be in touch."

(Breaking news concerns the million-plus 9/12 marchers searching Washington for politicians to tar and feather. And the Grand Seigneur was where last Saturday? In Minnesota, on a speaking trip that I'm sure had been planned for quite some time. In contrast, when a large-scale anti-Vietnam march descended on Washington in 1971, Richard M. Nixon, nobody's hero figure, left the White House to go among the marchers, discussing matters with them until late at night.) 

It's true that he does like to play the Dear Leader role. The national speech to schoolchildren was right out of the Mussolini and Peron handbook, while the "lesson plans" and quotations of the One's wisdom recommended for classroom use come direct from Stalin and Mao. But it's all theater, of a piece with his epoch-making speeches that never seem to contain a quotable line and revolutionary programs that can't quite get rolling.

In truth, with his community organizer's view of the world, the figure that Obama most resembles is Harry Hopkins, right-hand man to FDR and New Deal figurehead. Hopkins was a career social worker who after a lifetime spent in that thankless grind developed a patronizing attitude toward the poor and a burning hatred for the well-to-do. Under the New Deal, he attempted to turn this cheerful vision into reality, to transform the United States into a vast charity waiting room, with every citizen a welfare client. But he lacked both the power and ability to bring it off, even considering his admiration and familiarity with the tyrants of the era. Hopkins became very close to Stalin, for whom he simply could not do enough. (The KGB's Lubianka headquarters featured a large portrait honoring Hopkins until the end of the Cold War.)

All this is a strong indication that conservatives have not yet taken the measure of their opponent. It's telling that the most serious blow to Obama's plans, this summer's town hall uprising, was a pure grassroots effort, arising from voters disgusted with the administration's plans and less than overwhelmed by melodramatic visions of barbed wire and interrogation chambers. The ensuing march on Washington somehow came off without being met by flamethrowers, nerve gas, or helicopter gunships.

The popular impulse of the 9/12 marchers will fade if not given direction and purpose. But it's awful hard to provide those when you're hiding under the bed. We need to sit down, take a deep breath, and look closely at Obama and his collection of goofs without fears or illusions. What we will see is no political Godzilla but a hack pol elected to a position well above his abilities and trying to trigger a national social revolution using cheap Chicago ward-style political tactics. This man is vulnerable. He is not a nail-hard military tyrant or a glowing-eyed cyborg. He can be tripped up with ease. But you can't trip anybody if you're running from your own shadow. 

If I wanted to discredit the conservative movement, I'd publish a selection of the more hysteria-sodden comments concerning the Devil's own community organizer, many of them originating from influential and widely-read opinion leaders. (And perhaps some clever left-wing media figure is doing that right now.) The truth is this: the impulse that governs Obama is the same one that causes weedy, bespectacled college sophomores to play at being fierce revos. How scary is that?

What really should worry us is how Big O and his sideshow ménage will handle the disasters that will pop up tomorrow, next week, or after new years, but will inevitably pop up. Can you imagine Obama trying to handle 9/11 or Katrina? That's nightmare country. And also another story.

See also Kyle-Anne Shiver's response to this article.