Obama and Me
I have by this time written and posted maybe two dozen articles bitterly decrying the ruinous ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. In developing my arguments, I have used every discrediting metaphor and analogy I could think of — Obama as a defective scholar, as a greedy restaurateur, as a mad apologist, as a Science Fiction Destructor, as a sorcerer’s apprentice, as a sly feline, as a flamboyant orchid, as President Stuxnet, as an arboreal lycopod, as an arrogant college sophomore with failing grades, as a Burgher of Schilda, as the Playboy of the Western World, as the Pied Piper, as Zartan who assumes the identity of the president in the film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as the reincarnation of the false messiah Sabbatai Zevi, and more. I have even suffered nightmares in which he appears like a spook out of the yawning earth to haunt a terrified people.
But it didn’t start out that way. After 9/11 and the attendant shock to my soft-left political convictions, I embarked on a prolonged period of historical and political study culminating in my 2007 book, The Big Lie. Though I had by then become deeply conservative in my thinking and allegiances, this new orientation did not prevent me from admiring various worthy politicians in the Liberal Party of Canada and the Democratic Party in the U.S. And like so many others among the deluded, I was originally highly impressed by Barack Obama.
When I first heard about Obama as a rising star in the Democratic Party, a man so refreshingly different from his predecessors and contemporaries, I was intensely curious and quite favorably disposed toward the youngish, African-American legislator and author. And when I gleaned from my local newspaper that he might harbor aspirations to the White House, I found myself very much in his corner, one of his many Canadian fans. He had an effect similar to the new car smell, appropriately called “outgassing” in the trade, which is often irresistible to prospective buyers.
Naturally, I wished to learn as much as I could about the man who represented an unprecedented phenomenon on the American political scene. I soon discovered that very little of substance was known about this rara avis and so began a disciplined search for more information. Within months I had accumulated a towering stack of articles, commentaries, editorials, and diverse kinds of documentary materials, much of this stuff mere unfocused adulation and adjectival irrelevance but many of these items of a distinctly troubling nature. His autobiographies notwithstanding, I was soon caught in the grip of a profound paradox. It seemed the more I knew, the less I knew. But this “less” was more than enough to convince me, by the time he had won the Democratic nomination, that Obama was everything he presumably was not.
I had finally amassed enough documentation to determine that he was not the centrist he affected to be but a far-left ideologue, that he was a gyrating opportunist who could reverse his proclamations on a dime to suit the occasion, that he had neither knowledge of nor competence in the complexities of foreign affairs, that he was an unabashed plagiarist in his stump speeches, that there was no chance of him becoming a “post racial” president but rather a demagogue who would sharpen racial tensions, that his grasp of real-world economics was shaky to non-existent, that he was an unnervingly ignorant man (e.g. the Austrian language) as well as a showboat (e.g., the fake classical pillars), that he was associated with some of the most dubious people in the political, academic, and religious communities, and that he would waste little time putting the screws on Israel while flattering and appeasing the Islamic world.
True, Obama had done a masterful job obscuring both his past and his intentions, reminding me of John Dryden’s depiction of poetaster Thomas Shadwell in his great poem, “Mac Flecknoe”:
Shadwell’s genuine night admits no ray,
His rising fogs prevail upon the day.
Nonetheless, despite the dearth of salient information — the birth certificate flap, the mystery of his upbringing, the sealed college and university records, the lack of authoritative publications in his field, the undisclosed campaign donations, financial statements and professional clients list, and so on — there was sufficient evidence (or the crucial lack of obligatory evidence) to suggest that he would probably turn out to be one of the most reckless and divisive presidents in the entire panorama of American history. Nor was I surprised to learn that Obama’s The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream was translated in Indonesia, where he spent his formative years, as Assault Hope: From Jakarta to the White House (Menerjang Harapan: Dari Jakarta Menuju Gedung Putih). According to the American expatriate who made this piquant discovery in 2007, the Indonesian title definitively implies a “hopeful assault” or “struggle for victory,” that is, a “jihad.” It’s hard to believe that Obama was not aware of the substitution. What it may possibly signify is up to the reader to decide.
The irony was that Obama had been received into the heart of a significant portion of the American public as a sort of redeemer, even as a “god,” in Evan Thomas’ famous and ludicrous formulation. Mulling over such idolatry, I recalled those lines from Elizabethan poet Fulke Greville’s Mustapha, tweaked slightly in the application:
Yet when each of us in his own heart looks
He finds the god there far unlike his books.
To return, my interest in the man which had begun so auspiciously had morphed into a visceral loathing of everything he stood for and articulated with the ventriloquial collaboration of his nigh-indispensable teleprompter. Oleg Atbashian, author of Shakedown Socialism, writes that he feels “queasy” when listening to one of Obama’s press conferences. I, too, had arrived at the point where I could no longer listen to those lying cadences without reaching for the off button, and had to rely on printed reports in the newspapers to stay abreast of his pronouncements.
And still, I often had to swallow hard. What I found equally galling was the free pass he had been given by the dreamstream media and the Leftosphere in general, which garnished every faux pas, every lame decision, every piece of vacant bombast as an illustration of Obama’s unquestionable genius. It reminded me of the way Greeks tend to treat their students and children, as never failed to amaze me during the years I lived in the country. They ask a boy his name. “Takis,” he says. “Bravo,” they reply. In what other country, I used to wonder, do you get praised for knowing your name? (Actually, in our “self-esteem” education system, we are not far behind.) A Canadian friend of mine who teaches at a premier college in Athens joked: “In school the categories that correspond to our Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, etc., are: Angelic, Wonderful, Marvelous, and if you fail everything and are nabbed cheating, Room for Improvement.” In the same way, Obama’s report card glitters for every subject he has mangled beyond recognition.
By then I had decided that it was my moral duty to expose him in my writing and conversation for the charlatan and threat I knew him to be. As Frank Fleming has so aptly put it, “what a disaster it would be to appoint a mediocre legislator full of empty platitudes as president.” Indeed and rather absurdly, I felt a bit like a Paul Revere riding into the environing darkness to alert the unwary. It wasn’t long before I was knocked off my horse.
I observed that, generally speaking, Obama supporters rarely engaged in evidentiary debate, but studiously adopted evasive maneuvers instead. They either shut down the conversation entirely or, in many instances, contented themselves by flinging ad hominem invective at the doubter, in this way resolving the argument by steadfastly refusing to confront the facts at their disposal. Obviously, these are not the usages of reasoned discussion but the tactics of ingrained prejudice immune to the solvent of introspection.
Thus when I expressed my reservations to a close friend of many years, I received a cold and stinging email rebuke for my apparently bilious skepticism concerning so radiant a figure as Barack Obama. I was, to put it mildly, absolutely stunned by her response. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, as a similar incident inspired the uproarious title of Harry Stein’s 2009 book.) Trying to make light of this rebuke, I proposed that we meet over coffee to review the documentation I had collected and see if we could discern an emerging pattern, allowing her to draw her own conclusions as to its import. To no avail, and a warm friendship has since gone the way of many Democratic congressmen. This was by no means a one-off episode but was symptomatic of a kind of political exile to which I had now to accustom myself. It was clear that I was on the way to becoming persona non grata in my once-congenial entourage of friends and colleagues. In maintaining my conservative principles and in circulating my views of Obama — meticulously researched over considerable time — I would have to accept a rapidly dwindling company of friends. Obama has cost me dearly.
No less disturbing than the prospect of growing intellectual solitude was the fact that I scarcely recognized myself any longer. Obama had become an obsession that blotted out many of my previous interests and more beneficent compulsions, including my primary vocation, the writing of poetry. He was the subject of my nightly table talk, to the burgeoning discomfort of my word-battered wife. My Obama portfolio grew like the beanstalk until it was almost climbable — not to mention a Borgian library of relevant volumes crowding me out of living space.
I can sympathize with E.M. Cioran when he wrote in The Trouble with Being Born that “faced with some victorious aberration, my rage borders on apoplexy.” Perhaps the time has arrived to put this self-adoring parvenu of a president out of mind and recuperate a semblance of psychological equilibrium. Perhaps I should just let him be Wikileaked into a state of embarrassment, leaving us to speculate which is more offensive, his deceptiveness or his ineptitude. Perhaps Julia Gorin had it right when she wrote that she “essentially tuned out of politics” the day Obama was elected, “having little interest in charting every step along the path to destruction that we non-Obama voters predicted.”
Or is patience the answer? Will people eventually acknowledge that the ideas pursued and enacted by this administration are so distressingly primitive as to resemble desultory proteins just beginning to emerge from a prebiotic world? Given a Republican-dominated House (though one can never be sure about the Republicans), the situation may change for the better in the next two years and the aberrant interlude in American politics signaled by Obama’s baleful stewardship will become a thing of the past, to be remembered with a mixture of mortification and relief. Personally, such an eventuality would give me the breather I look forward to and the leisure to revert to other, more rewarding, subjects. Perhaps I might even start now, before it is too late.
And yet, I cannot help but react with angry disbelief when I turn the pages of Harvard academic James Kloppenberg’s Reading Obama, an example of the menial sycophancy that burdened America with Obama in the first place. Kloppenberg argues that “Obama has demonstrated an exceptionally sophisticated and sustained engagement with the history of American thought and culture,” a claim for which there is not the slightest iota of evidence in any of Obama’s utterances and productions, including his boast of having campaigned in 57 states, with one left to visit. This is historical erudition?
Again, Kloppenberg writes that Obama is acquainted “with the venerable tradition of American democracy,” but his actions — e.g., the appointment of “czars” to circumvent Congress, the dropping of the New Black Panther case and using his appointment powers to frustrate the investigation of the travesty, the refusal to police rampant voter fraud, the takeover of much of the auto industry and banking sector, the gross violation of investment protocol in the Chrysler affair at the expense of legally secured bondholders, the forcing of an unread health care bill into law in the dead of night and against the wishes of the majority of Americans, the dispatching of his political operation, Organizing for America, to agitate on the side of the unions against the Wisconsin state government’s legitimate effort to put its financial house in order, the friendly relation with the Muslim Brotherhood — prove decisively otherwise. As Barry Rubin comments in a review of Reading Obama, “The professors in too many cases have become the village idiots of America, as much out of touch with their own country and reality as the French aristocracy was at the time of the revolution there.” Amen. Meanwhile, the urge to combat the groveling follies of the Kloppenbergs of the liberal peloton tends to keep me in the race.
Nor can I quite detach myself from the mesmerizing spectacle of an American president and his party bent on weakening and impoverishing a once-great country and transforming it into a socialist caricature of good governance. The fascination with so noisome and preposterous a burlesque is not easily dismissed. There were moments when it seemed I was witnessing a performance, suitably updated, from the Commedia dell’arte, with Joe Biden as the feeble-minded Pantaloon, the now-departed Rahm Emanuel as the mischievous Harlequin and his brother Ezekiel as the ignorant and ostentatious Doctor Balanzone, a grizzled Nancy Pelosi as an aging Columbine, Valerie Jarrett, clever, self-important and a lover of intrigue, as the Soubrette, the necrotic George Soros as the miles gloriosus Captain Courageous, and of course Obama as the braggart and fool Scaramouche, clownish purveyor of slapstick exploits and vainglorious language. The cast can be expanded at will to include many of the other dolts and lightweights cluttering the stage.
But, once again, we should not be deceived into thinking that this Scaramouche is merely a wretched prankster whose escapades leave no lasting indentation in our lives. After all, this is the man who promised five million new green jobs if elected in 2008 and has so far not only failed to provide them, even in part, but has lost four million red and blue jobs into the bargain. Before he powers off, he will have wrought enormous havoc. Observing the spectacle of Obama from a transatlantic distance, which affords a degree of perspective, French philosopher Guy Millière writes in La Résistible Ascension de Barack Obama: “Barack Obama est un homme dangereux…C’est un ancien agiteur social d’extrême-gauche…un homme qui fait tout pour détraquer l’economie américaine [et] créer une ordre international propice aux dictatures et à la destruction de la liberté.” (“Barack Obama is a dangerous man….He’s an old agitator of the extreme left…a man who does all to destabilize the American economy [and] to create an international order hospitable to dictatorships and to the destruction of liberty.”) The Obama theater may be laughable, but it is also socially, politically and economically disastrous.
And militarily as well. His geopolitical adversaries in Russia, China, Latin America and the Islamic world chuckle incredulously, scarcely able to believe their luck. They have taken Obama’s measure and understood the field is theirs. “All the bad boys,” writes commentator David Hornik, “have figured out by now that there’s no cop anymore” (personal correspondence). Fear of Obama did not prevent a Chinese submarine from allegedly launching an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) “test” attack on November 8, 2010, some 200 miles off the coast of California, crippling the cruise ship Carnival Splendor. The anomalous event noted that day of a missile streak in the sky, implausibly dismissed by the Pentagon as a jet contrail, was likely due to the American response, a Tomahawk cruise missile fired eleven hours later. Reported in precise detail by the Russian Federal Space Agency which monitors the coastal regions of the United States, this episode does not seem to be merely another conspiracy hoax in the making.
With rogue nations like North Korea and Iran in the mix, the spectre of an EMP attack on a totally unprepared country is real enough. America’s electrical grid has not been “hardened” and could be disabled with devastating consequences by such an attack. William R. Graham, chairman of the Congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on July 10, 2008, that Iran has already conducted potential EMP missile tests from frigates in the Caspian Sea. Additionally, Graham drew attention to Iranian military writings that “explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States.” In 2008, officials may have been a trifle insouciant regarding such a visitation; in 2011, no president can afford to ignore the threat.
It goes on. Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq has led to increased terrorist violence and ongoing Iranian infiltration, which bodes evil for the future. His original “exit strategy” for Afghanistan, including the feckless and counter-productive announcement of a pullout date, could only embolden the Taliban, who would simply outwait the Americans before launching a major insurgency. Obama’s apparently agreeing to pass British nuclear secrets to the Russians is not only morally unconscionable but looks like an act of sheer unadulterated treachery — apart from the fact that Russia got what it wanted from the new START Treaty. That Iran is building up a missile capacity in Venezuela, including Shahab 3, Scud-B and Scud-C rockets that have American cities within range, has met with no response from the president, who appears to regard Hugo Chavez as a friendly interlocutor and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a partner in reason.
The United States is at war on various fronts, although some of these wars are reluctantly fought, are undeclared or have not yet erupted into full-scale physical conflict. In every case, however, America is relinquishing the initiative to its enemies. What Ford Madox Ford wrote of England in his novel Parade’s End: Some Do Not… seems equally true of Obama’s America: “War for this country could only mean humiliation, spreading under the sunlight, an almost invisible pall….” The reign of a tawdry and perilous mediocrity continues. James Simpson, a former official in the White House Budget Office, goes so far as to conjecture that something more than a vanilla mentality or doctrinal flatulence is at stake here. Should the United States ever come under revolutionary duress, he muses, “Obama would be out in the streets…with his fellow radical leftists burning the America flag.” A bit over the top, no doubt, but indicative of the anxiety and suspicion that many Americans have come to feel about their president.
There is no question that Obama is a man driven by a power pack of hard-left theories and precepts. Yet when responding to sudden events whether at home or abroad, he has no settled mind, only impulses and inclinations. This explains why he is constantly backtracking in trying to explain his switchback itinerary and impetuous behavior, arranging beer summits in the Rose Garden or almost daily revising his policies regarding the upheaval in Egypt. Which Obama inspires greater uneasiness, the dedicated socialist or the vacillating flibbertigibbet? What we have here is a lose-lose situation.
Still, there is a consolation. Eventually the curtain will come down on this administration and the cast will disperse to other lives, hopefully before they have done irreparable damage. We need not feel sorry for them since every member of the carnival pasquinade has been well provided for. As for Obama, who has been called a cargo cult president with nothing to offer except empty promises and undelivered gifts, after he will have done his utmost to “socialize” America and push it to the brink of destitution, he will conceivably move on to the United Nations where he will be elected secretary general and from whose lofty perch he can continue his rash assault on the sovereignty of the United States. The president who brought the United States into the fold of the pestilential UNHRC, and allowed the State Department to submit his country to the vicious and hypocritical censure of the world’s most autocratic backwaters, would be a shoo-in to succeed Ban Ki-moon, who’s no big fan of America either.
But by then, if we are lucky, Obama will have been replaced by a responsible and patriotic chief executive, one who, as Lee Harris writes in The Next American Civil War, would resemble “a strong and tough president like Andrew Jackson…willing and determined to shake up the status quo.” Seeking to solve the problems that Obama has only managed to aggravate, he or she can begin diligently undoing the harm inflicted upon the nation and steering it in the right direction: tightening electoral oversight, shoring up border defenses, acknowledging and prosecuting the so-called “war on terror” (which is really a war against Islamic supremacism), projecting tenable force in the international arena, resisting the juridical incursions of the United Nations, putting paid to the DREAM Act, restoring the economy by repealing ObamaCare, cutting entitlement spending, reducing taxes, drilling for oil and gas both onshore and offshore and burying cap-and-trade once and for all, and so re-establishing America in its rightful place as the world’s preeminent and most justifiable power. That is, if it’s not too late.
Americans, at least until recently, tended to take after Chaucer’s drunkard in “The Knight’s Tale,” who
…is aware he has a house
But what he doesn’t know is the way thither.
This is certainly true of the intelligentsia crawling out of the university wainscoting and the denizens of a privileged social milieu, but applies equally to many from a less exalted station of life. Political scientist Salim Mansur laments that he “was wrong in my overestimation of reason and experience among American voters as a check on the naiveté of the university crowd and the duplicity of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’ in free societies.” He concludes that “the losses and tears that have piled up…could have been avoided if we, as a people, were not so irresponsible or unfaithful to our history as to place at the head of our societies leaders so unworthy as the one who so unfittingly occupies the seat of Washington and Lincoln, at the head of this great republic.”
Ideally, such errancy will change as 2012 approaches and chastened electors start to recollect the way back home. Obama may not be a god, but he might be a godsend insofar as his destructive tenure should serve to warn Americans of the folly of electing a rhetorical windbag of a Marxist persuasion to the highest office in the land, without having done their due diligence. Or will they succumb yet again to what Mike McDaniel describes as “the rhetoric of the community organizer, the union boss, the black liberation theologian, the socialist”? The issue is moot. Perhaps there is still time for a course correction and for recognizing that a used ideology salesman is not to be trusted.
It may not happen — Obama is a shrewd and polymorphic manipulator who may twice befuddle susceptible American voters — but it is surely a consummation devoutly to be wished. Having installed a comparatively sober administration composed of mature adults, Americans would then be able to go about their ordinary lives once more without having to periodically descend on Washington or join protest movements or fret about their children and grandchildren crushed under cordilleras of unpayable debt or brace for the next, increasingly likely terrorist attack or defend themselves against SEIU thugs or wonder what happened to the dollar or watch illegal aliens jump to the front of the college and university queues or bring cameras to voting stations or avoid the Arizona-Mexico border when vacationing or toil with scant success to find a doctor should Obamacare kick in, as we do in my country under our single payer system.
And I can return to reading and writing poetry again.
David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, and is currently working on a sequel, Living in the Valley of Shmoon. His new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, has just been released by Mantua Books.