I believe it was Jean Giraudoux who first said, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.”
Barack Obama was supposed to be the best, the very best, and yet he is always, reliably, consistently mediocre. His speech on oil was no better or worse than his speech on race. Yet the Obammyboppers who once squealed with delight are weary of last year’s boy band. At the end of the big Oval Office address, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and the rest of the MSNBC gang jeered the president. For a bewildered Obama, it must have felt like his Ceausescu balcony moment. Had they caught up with him in the White House parking lot, they’d have put him up against the wall and clubbed him to a pulp with Matthews’s no longer tingling leg.
For the first time I felt a wee bit sorry for the poor fellow. What had he done to so enrage his full supporting chorus? In the Washington Post
, the reaction of longtime Obammysoxer Eugene Robinson was headlined “Obama Disappoints From The Beginning Of His Speech.”
So what? He always “disappoints.” What would have been startling would have been if he hadn’t “disappointed.” His eve-of-election rally for Martha Coakley “disappointed” the Massachusetts electorate so much they gave Ted Kennedy’s seat to a Republican. His speech for Chicago’s Olympic bid “disappointed” the Oslo committee so much they gave the games to Pyongyang, or Ouagadougou, or any city offering to build a stadium with electrical outlets incompatible with Obama’s prompter. Be honest, guys, his inaugural address “disappointed,” too, didn’t it? Oh, in those days you still did your best to make the case for it. “He carries us from meditative bead to meditative bead, and invites us to contemplate,” wrote Stanley Fish in the New York Times. “There is a technical term for this kind of writing — parataxis, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the placing of propositions or clauses one after the other without indicating . . . the relation of co-ordination or subordination between them.’”
Gotcha. To a fool, His Majesty’s new clothes appear absolutely invisible. But, to a wise man, the placing of buttons and pockets without indicating the relation of co-ordination is a fascinating exercise in parataxical couture.
And so Obama bounded out to knock ’em dead with another chorus of “I’ll be down to get you in a parataxis, honey,” only to find himself pelted with dead fish rather than Stanley Fish. The Times’s Maureen Dowd deplored his “bloodless quality” and “emotional detachment.” This is the same Maureen Dowd who in 2009 hailed the new presidency with a column titled “Spock At The Bridge” — and she meant it as a compliment. Back then, this administration was supposed to be the new technocracy — cool, calm, and credentialed chaps who would sit down, use their mighty intellects to provide a rigorous, post-partisan, forensic analysis of the problem, and then break for their Vanity Fair photo shoot.