January 21, 2010
The End of the Obama Mystique
It's been a few years since the release of The 13th Warrior. The film was that rarity, an intelligent actioner. Adapted from Michael Crichton's novel Eaters of the Dead, it was a retelling, and rationalization, of the ancient Beowulf legend.
In Crichton's version, the monsters of legend comprise a tribe of human cannibals preying on Viking settlements. The story is told through the eyes of an educated Arab visitor driven to the far north by circumstances. He witnesses an attack by the cannibals in which the Vikings panic and run for it, sustaining heavy casualties in the process. But then, with the assistance of their Arab visitor, the Vikings begin to analyze the behavior of their enemy, piercing through the supernatural aura to the actuality within, learning their enemy's weaknesses and the means of capitalizing on them. The Viking defense improves and becomes formidable. At last they assault the cannibal stronghold itself, where Beowulf confronts and destroys their unsavory queen-goddess, losing his life in the process.
The film is an examination of the power of intellectual analysis. Utilizing their brains, along with their swords, the Vikings pierce the mystique of the cannibals, seeing them no longer as demons erupted from Hell but merely as men whose mother goddess dresses them funny. From that point on, it's only a matter of time, effort, and tactics.
The same process has occurred many times in history. In 1814, somebody -- it's unclear who -- persuaded the Allies that the smart move was to stop chasing Napoleon from battlefield to battlefield and instead to march directly on Paris and deprive him of his power base. That did the trick -- with his mystique as the Unconquered Conqueror punctured, Napoleon was soon without an army and within weeks in Elba, playing solitaire and planning his big comeback.
To read the war reports and commentary of 1942 is to step into an alternate universe. People really expected the Japanese Imperial Navy to sail over the horizon any minute. Predictions were made for the loss of Alaska, attacks on the West Coast, an invasion of the Pacific Northwest, the utter destruction of the Panama Canal. None of it happened, of course, and the legend of the Japanese superman died at last in the hard fighting at Midway and Guadalcanal, and was never regained.
We saw it again this Tuesday in Massachusetts. In a nearly unimaginable upset, a seat that "belonged" to the Democrats in a state "owned" by extreme liberals was taken by an underdog Republican candidate. Scott Brown's victory over Marsha, Marcia, Ms. Coakley was substantial - 52% to 47%, with the balance going to a third-party pest. The results have shaken the political cosmos. It is impossible to see the long-term results at this point.
But one thing is clear: Brown didn't just overcome an unworthy, machine-produced opponent, or even provide the crucial vote to prevent the further socialization of the United States. He destroyed a legend -- the legend of Obama the Omnipotent.
We are seeing an intrusion of the mythic into everyday life, an instance of the Beowulf factor influencing millennial politics. The result has shocked and disturbed many onlookers. But Carl Jung would not have been surprised.
The Obama of 2008 was a figure who came out of nowhere trailing clouds of glory. His followers hailed him as a new phenomenon, of a type unseen in America since JFK and perhaps not ever. He was hailed as superhuman, with more than a touch of the divine. Some openly called him a messiah. One of his media supporters stated for the record that Obama was a godlike entity.
Perhaps it seemed like that to some after his November victory. The stunned opposition among Republicans and conservatives were certainly tempted to view it that way. How else to explain the near-mad adulation, the absolute certainty, the pseudo-religious frenzy? People rushed to make offerings at Obama's feet. Buildings and schools were renamed for him. The Nobel committee trashed its reputation to offer him a prize normally given only after lengthy and productive careers.
To the opposition, he remained a mystery, an uncanny figure, certainly not what his followers claimed, but something out of the ordinary all the same, to be analyzed and pondered only at a safe distance. Stymied conservatives were reduced to watchful waiting, to near-hysterical pursuit of wills-of-the-wisp, or at worst to even turning their coats and going over to the other side. (In the case of David Brooks, I'd guess you'd have say turning his pants)
Some had doubts. It all seemed too much like rock-star hype of the most vulgar sort. Obama was a pol for the age of Britney, a messiah for people who became famous for wearing their pants low. Such an epoch could never produce an FDR or even a Lyndon B. Johnson. The Big O had flaws, hidden though they might be. Remain alert, and they'd appear eventually. This was the impulse that fueled the Tea Parties of last summer.
The record of his first year seemed to bear this out. The pusillanimity in dealing with the Russians and Iranians, the back of the hand given allies such as the UK, Israel, and Poland. As the months passed the errors grew larger, the faux pas more humiliating -- the bows to toy royalty, the collapse of Chicago's Olympics plans, the debacle of the Copenhagen "climate summit". But Obama's more-than-human reputation survived. Even when New Jersey and Virginia went to the GOP in the gubernatorial elections, the blame went to poor candidates, the recession, the customary blowback against incumbents. Obama sailed above it all, his halo unblemished.
With the health-care bill, it all seemed to be coming back. The tide once again was running Obama's way. Through a mixture of chicanery, deceit, and open bribery this atrocious bill, as clear an undermining of American freedoms as exists in the historical record, was brought to the very brink of passage. The superhuman Obama had returned, once more standing astride history like a colossus.
As of this week, that is ended. Obama as Übermensch is a thing of the past. In a short time, commentators from all parts of the spectrum will be scratching their heads and wondering what it was all about.
While Obama was tarred from his support of losers in the Virginia and New Jersey contests, Massachusetts left him no choice. Too much was at stake. His signature effort, the takeover of the health-care system, depended on that single vote. So he was flushed out of the Oval Office at emergency speed to throw a lifeline to a swamped candidate. The tired, near-shabby figure who appeared in Boston last Sunday to mouth a pro forma endorsement that he obviously did not believe was not the Obama of last year. Not a godling, not a New Man, not a higher step in evolution, but a sad and overwhelmed individual who is having bad time of it and sees worse coming.
Mystique is a strange type of armor. Intact, it is effectively impenetrable. But when it fails, it fails not in sections or layers but completely, becoming not a source of protection but a burden, one that the wearer cannot rid himself of no matter how hard he tries. Obama is about to discover the truth of this. The historical record is clear on one point: people are not kind to failed messiahs.
And it was accomplished by a regular guy, a guy who drives a pickup, who probably intended or foresaw nothing of the sort. But that, after all, is the way it goes in this country. It's not Beowulf who rides to the rescue in America -- and that's a good thing; Beowulfs often die fulfilling their missions -- but the average guy who sees something wrong and acts to set it right. That is what Scott Brown did. And though he may sometimes disappoint us in days to come - a serious conservative, after all, could never have been elected in Massachusetts - nothing can diminish his achievement of this day. He is the man who demonstrated, clearly and with finality, that a god-emperor has no place in the American system. That is no small thing.
A final point: this must also mark the end of conservative defeatism. Obama is no longer a mystery, no longer an invulnerable figure, no longer the favorite of destiny.
He is the master of a party of thieves, loons, and hustlers. A party that has tossed away its mandate in less than a year's time, a party with no Plan B, with no ideas and no useful tradition, a party that feeds off fantasy, with nothing to serve it but the husk of an ideology dead for generations. They are easy targets, from Obama on down, and there is no excuse for holding back.
There is still plenty of work to do, and a long road ahead. We are still at Midway. But as a man said at the time, "It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Let us go amongst them.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.