Saturday, October 11, 2008
Mark Steyn on Obama: Filling in the blank
Speaking personally, I'm not looking for a messiah in the White House. My favorite presidential heritage site is the Coolidge homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vt.: I have seen the mausoleums of mighty kings, but none compares with the row of headstones on a snowbound hillside cemetery, seven generations of Coolidges lined up in a row, all buried under simple, bald granite markers with only an all but imperceptible small American eagle to distinguish the 30th president from his forebears and descendants. The American ideal: the citizen-president.
Or so I always assumed. But let's be bipartisan here. If I were a Democrat, I'd salute Harry S. Truman, the Missouri haberdasher who … whoa, "haberdasher"! There's a word you don't hear too much nowadays, and, if you did, it'd probably be because the treasury secretary and the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee are on cable TV, standing on the steps of the Capitol announcing a 700 gazillion-dollar bipartisan haberdashery bailout package because the global haberdashery sector is too big to fail, and if we don't act now there'll be a massive planetary ripple effect that could take down ladies' lingerie, if you'll pardon the expression.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Citizen-presidents: Who needs 'em? The day after the most-recent debate I bumped into two Obama supporters in St Johnsbury, Vt. They said isn't it great that he's on course to win. Well, they were cute chicks, and I know an obvious pick-up line when I hear one, so I stopped to chat. God Almighty, it was like reverse Viagra: After 10 minutes of Babes For Barack, I never want to meet a female woman of the opposite sex for the rest of my life. Their basic pitch was:
"How do you solve a problem? Like, Obama!
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?"
That's John McCain's problem. Traditionally, when an unknown politician emerges on the national scene, it's a race to define him. Gov. Palin is a good example: within days, the coastal sophisticates were mocking her as a chillbilly ditz with a womb that spits out inbred kids faster than the First National Bank of Welfare Swamp issues subprime mortgages. That's politics as usual: Define your opponent.
But Obama is defined by his indefinability. When I pointed out to my Vermont gals that he lives in a swank pad that was part of some shady real estate deal with a convicted fraudster (Tony Rezko), that he entrusted his daughters' entire religious education to a neo-segregationist anti-American nut who preaches that the government created the AIDS virus to kill black people (Jeremiah Wright), that he attended fundraisers with a political patron who's an unrepentant terrorist proud of plotting to blow up young ladies just like them at a dance at the Fort Dix military base (William Ayers), when I pointed all this out, they looked at me as if I'd brought a baseball bat to a croquet match. Mere earthbound politicians are defined by their real estate deals and sleazy buddies, but Obama is defined only by his vibe. As his many admirers in France would say, he has a certain je ne sais quoi. And, if you try to pin down quoprecisely, then they don't want to sais.
Besides, said one of the cuties, it's racist to try to link him to unsavory white men (Ayers). And black men (Wright). And Arabs (Rezko). And, just to be on the safe side, any dodgy Uzbeks or Papuans who might have been lurking around the greater Chicago area for the past quarter-century.
The ladies weren't exactly covering their eyes and going, "Neee-neeee-na-na, can't hear you," but the other cutie did begin waving at me her Obama sticker – the one with the giant blue-frosted O embedded in a manicured candy-striped upland – like the villain in the movie trying to hypnotize you with his pocketwatch. I began frantically looking around in hopes that a passing Hare Krishna or Scientologist type could get me out of there. But, no: Gaze into the giant zero of the Obama logo, the hole in the star-spangled doughnut, the vast fathomless nullity that is the gaping keyhole to the door of utopia. To a sad shriveled Republican cynic, there's nothing there but the wide open spaces of Obama's blank resume. But believers will see therein the healing of the planet and the receding of the oceans. The black hole of Obama will suck you in through the awesome power of its totally cool suckiness.
Most Americans, of course, are not cute coeds or Hollywood celebrities or guilt-ridden white liberals. But they react to Obamania like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn faced with Sidney Poitier in "Guess Who's Coming To The Inaugural?" We don't know much about this chap but he seems very well-spoken and nicely turned out – "articulate and bright and clean," as Joe Biden said. Obama himself has eased up on the "I am the one you've been waiting for" shtick because he's running out the clock. He was monumentally boring in last week's debate because, at this stage, boring wins. The man who used to say he doesn't look like all the other presidents now looks like all the other presidents: the calm, plausible, reassuring man in the sober suit. This is no time to frighten the horses.
But the thing is: the horses are frightened. The Dow's nose-diving, stocks are looking at their worst year since 1937. At the debate we were offered the curious spectacle of two candidates both of whom essentially take the same line on this stuff – Wall Street greed, special interests, lobbyists, the usual populist boilerplate. And yet for a pair of guys who both believe in big government solutions, everything they said seemed small and tinny. Epic events swirled all around, but the two men fighting to lead the global superpower could only joust with cardboard swords: Why, Obama was such a bold leader on this issue that only two years ago he "sent a letter" to somebody or other. Why, long before Obama sent his letter, McCain "issued a statement." Rarely has the gulf between interesting times and the paperwork of "big government" yawned so widely.
The Republican candidate's tragedy in this election is that he's chosen to fight on Obama turf, to share so many of his assumptions. At a McCain rally in Wisconsin, a fellow in the crowd announced he was mad as hell and got a standing ovation. What was he mad about"? Obama, Pelosi and "the socialists taking over our country." McCain listened politely and then pledged to get back to Washington to reach across the aisle to work on some gargantuan bipartisan cure-all. Not the answer that chap wanted to hear, I'll wager.
If the more frightening polls are correct, America is about to elect the most left-wing government in history: an Obama Oval Office, a Pelosi House of Representatives, a filibuster-proof Senate … and a year or two down the road maybe three new Supreme Court justices. It would be a transformational administration that would start building (in Michelle Obama's words) "the world as it should be." That big empty hole in the heart of the Obama logo will not stay blank for long.