The Return of Obama Gravitas

Stay tuned for 2011, when the political and media establishment will declare that indeed, Barack Obama has found his misplaced gravitas.  Insiders will celebrate an awesomely deep president who will have sharpened his pants crease and will again bask in the unrestrained praise of the media gods.  Amazing media grace: It once was lost, but now it's found, a gravitas for all to see

Do not be surprised when the first quarter of the new year brings a flood of stories celebrating the newly found effectiveness of the president and his policies.  Official Washington will join with old media to again celebrate the president's "gravitas," which is code for belief in the necessity of "a rather small Western elite" to manage every aspect of our lives.  At the same time, a Tea Party-influenced Congress will be portrayed as lacking seriousness of purpose -- gravitas, the media will put it -- by virtue of its constrictive policies and approaches. Limited government?  Individual responsibility?  Constitutional restrictions?  All simply the thoughts and machinations of people who lack the intelligence to think big, to engage in social engineering on behalf of a greater vision.  In other words, a citizenry and new Congress that lack gravitas, the media will tell us.

Gravitas -- what more can you ask for?  Hence, the new year will bring renewed emphasis on the "brilliance" of Obama despite all evidence to the contrary.  Never mind a presidency that has been "a striking failure"(American Thinker), a president whose direction of a "profligate Congress [that] carpet-bombs taxpayer dollars on greedy federal bureaucrats" (National Review), and a White House that offers "corruption" and "blatant disregard for the rule of law" (Judicial Watch)?  Whom are you going to believe -- the media or your lying eyes?

That's why the media will lead a rediscovery of the gravitas of the president after a December that has seen 71% of the voters scream that he's taking the nation "down the wrong track."  What do voters know?  For the media, Obama is, after all, a president who once used the words "colloquy" and "Manichean" in a policy discussion, thereby astounding a Washington Post reporter who -- although admitting he didn't know what Obama was talking about -- allowed that Obama sure sounded smart.  It's that gravitas thing, you know.  The assumption is that if your policies are confusing, your words polysyllabic, and your pedigree Ivy, then you occupy a higher "intellectual stage" than the rest of us -- or so declares former NPR and current FOXNews commentator Juan Williams.

Neither Williams nor others in the liberal media offer supporting evidence.  Like the sun, Obama's brilliance is simply there, evident to all who think correctly.  His gravitas is assumed.  Sure, he may have misplaced it for a while (perhaps when the thought of a Sarah Palin presidency caused him to lose his vaunted Marxist cool and descend into a fit of giggles), but the silly season is over, the midterm elections behind, and the media will now portray him as both master of the Beltway and the world leader in gravitas.

With the need to assist his reelection, the networks and newspapers will shift from the occasional "Has Obama lost his gravitas?" to "Well, gosh darn, it turns out he never lost it because he is it!"  The New York Times Company let us know this past week through its Boston Globe subsidiary that Obama is the embodiment of seriousness.  By using a word or embracing an issue, Obama "can add a bit to its gravitas."  His involvement underlines the importance of an issue or course of action.  What's important?  We dunno, says the New York Times, the Washington Post, the networks.  Ask the guy with the gravitas who sets the agenda.

Obama is not in Washington to serve; he is in Washington to engineer.  And there are few things in life more important than engineering outcomes for the lives of other people -- that's what you do when you have gravitas.  Gravitas has its center in the Democratic Party, but it has a significant presence among Beltway Republicans.  Karl Rove, for example, has long possessed gravitas, having engineered the growth of the federal bureaucracy and debt during the Bush years.  Rove, like Obama, views Washington power as something to be grown and used, rather than limited.  When the chief political advisor for President Bush promoted open borders and amnesty, he was displaying gravitas by adding a Democrat-like dependent constituency.  Rove and Republican insiders have gravitas; limited government devotee Sarah Palin, Rove points out, does not.

But Rove (indeed, most of official Washington) is a gravitas Mini-Me compared to the Dr. Evil of Barack Obama.  Obama thinks both strategically and big, as is the wont of those with gravitas.  Whereas our founders thought small (as ideas, limited government power and pushing responsibility to the states and individuals lack gravitas), Obama instinctively understands the need for vast Soviet-style bureaucratic oversight of individuals and groups.  Beginning next week, the media will again promote the serious thoughts by a serious individual engaged in the serious engineering of society.  We have an election to win: Hi ho, gravitas, away!

The gravitas of Obama underlies the growing media narrative of what MSNBC's Chris Matthews calls his "comeback."  After all, Obama can't fail because he possesses an innate sense of the proper stances and views.  This worldview is the single trait that most separates what educator Angelo M. Codevilla calls the "ruling" class -- insiders oriented toward government and contemptuous of the "uneasy" majority over which it rules -- from the "country" class, the rest of us who are judged "intellectually and ... humanly inferior" to those holding the reins of media and political power.  Gravitas is not earned; rather, it is conferred by our elites upon those deemed intellectually distinctive.

So the new year will see the Obama gravitas guns blazing, courtesy of the mainstream media.  This is a familiar pattern: Joe Biden, whose Senate career redefined the word "inept," has gravitas courtesy of the New York Times; NPR has conferred gravitas on socialist mass murderers Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba; heck, the New York Times even celebrated the passing of Stalin and his gravitas with a salute to his creation of a "Mighty Socialist State."

And so, as workers dismantle the holiday arugula tree at the White House and the president shows a sense of purpose with a five-iron on the fairways of Hawaii, the media prepares for the return of gravitas to Washington.

Happy New Year, taxpayers.  May the gravitas be with you.

Stuart Schwartz, formerly a media and retail executive, is a gravitas-free professor of communication at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.