Politics & Policy

You Say You Want a Revolution

Political worshippers of the new Messiah.

These days, Obama worshippers file two kinds of columns. The first school is well represented by Ezra Klein, the elderly bobbysoxer of The American Prospect:

Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.

Er, okay, if you say so. I got a bit bored halfway through and switched over to the Golden Girls rerun. But to each his own. Still, it seems to me that Barack Obama is the triumph of flesh, color, and despair over word — that’s to say, he offers an appealing embodiment of identity politics plus a ludicrously despairing vision of contemporary America (sample: “Trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart”) that triumphs over anything so prosaic as a policy platform. Mrs. Clinton, the earthbound wonk, is reduced to fulminating that this race is about “speeches versus solutions.” But a lot of Democrats seem to have concluded that Hillary’s the problem, and Obama’s speech is the solution.

On the other hand, if you’re running for president not as an unexceptional first-term senator with a thin resume but as the new Messiah, the new Kennedy, the new Gandhi, the new Martin Luther King, you can’t blame folks for leaping ahead to the next stage in the mythic narrative. Around the world, a second instant sub-genre has sprung up in which commentators speculate how long it will be before some deranged Christian-fundamentalist neo-Nazi gun-nut deprives America of its fleeting wisp of glory. Setting a new standard for fevered slavering Obama-assassination porn, Earl MacRae warned Canadians in the Ottawa Sun this week:

To be black and catapulting towards the presidency on charm, intellect, and popularity is unacceptable to the racist paranoid and scary in America the beautiful… They do not want to hear that he is a better American than they are, these right-wing extremist fascists in the land of America who no doubt believe it’s God’s will Barack Obama not get to the White House, no method of deterrence out of bounds, in their zealotry to protect and perpetuate Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Mom’s apple pie, and the cross of Jesus in every home.

And you can’t protect and perpetuate Roy Rogers without a Trigger. By this point, Mr. MacRae wasn’t so much warming to his theme as typing up his first draft for Miramax: “Barack Obama is waving his arms. The crowd is cheering. I see the image I don’t want to see. I see the image that is the terrible sickness in the great republic. I see Barack Obama one minute smiling, the people crying his name. I see Barack Obama grab his chest and his eyes widen and his mouth opens and the crowd screams as Barack Obama, black candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, falls to the ground dead, an assassin’s bullet inside him.”

Er, okay. But would it help if I made you a nice cup of chamomile tea and you lie down in a darkened room for half an hour? Right now Obama’s more at risk of being taken out by traces of polonium-210 left in his hotel by a Clinton operative than by Roy Rogers saddling up for Jesus. Every president is a target for assassination, though George W. Bush is unique in having been the subject of explicit murder fantasies by so many non-right-wing non-extremist impeccably reasonable artists (the British movie Death Of A President; the novella Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker) and even the occasional straightforward exhortation: “On November 2, the entire civilized world will be praying, praying Bush loses,” wrote Charlie Brooker in London’s Guardian in 2004. “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?”

Well, wherever they are, they’re probably saying: “Why bring us into it? When ol’ Lee Harvey decided it was time for JFK to get assassinated, he didn’t sit around whining, ‘John Wilkes Booth, where are you now that I need you?’ Get off your butt and do it yourself, you big Euro-ninny.” Ah, but for the armchair insurgents of the western Left, the vicarious frisson is more than delicious enough. Anything else would interfere with dinner plans.

The Bush-assassination fantasies are concocted by his political opponents and at least arise from his acts — invading the world; slaughtering 14 million Iraqi civilians or whatever it’s up to by now; shredding the constitution. By contrast, the Obama-assassination porn is written by his worshippers and testifies to one of the most palpable features of the senator’s campaign — its faintly ersatz quality, its determination to appropriate Camelot and every other mythic narrative. A few days ago, a local news team went to shoot some film at the Houston campaign headquarters for Obama. Behind the desks of the perky gals answering the phones were posters of Che Guevara and Cuban flags. Needless to say, the news reporters were either indifferent to this curious veneration or too sensitive to mention it, and it was left to the right-wing extremist Roy Rogers fascists of the blogosphere to point it out.

Do Obama’s volunteers even know who Che is? Apart from being a really cool guy on posters and T-shirts, like James Dean or Bart Simpson, I doubt it. They’re pseudo-revolutionaries. Very few people in America want a real revolution: Life is great, this is a terrific country, with unparalleled economic opportunities. To be sure, it’s a tougher break if you have the misfortune to be the victim of one of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs or a decrepit inner-city grade school with a higher per-student budget than the wealthiest parts of Switzerland. But even so, to be born a U.S. citizen is, as Cecil Rhodes once said of England, to win first prize in the lottery of life. Not even Obama supporters want real revolution: They’re messy, your cities get torched, the economy collapses, much of your talent flees. Ask the many peoples around the world for whom revolution means not a lame-o Sixties poster above your desk but the carnage and horror of the day before yesterday.

Poor mean vengeful Hillary, heading for a one-way ticket on the oblivion express, has a point. Barack Obama is an elevator Muzak dinner-theater reduction of all the glibbest hand-me-down myths in liberal iconography — which is probably why he’s a shoo-in. The problems facing America — unsustainable entitlements, broken borders, nuclearizing enemies — require tough solutions not gaseous Sesame Street platitudes. But, unlike the whose-turn-is-it? GOP, Mrs. Clinton’s crowd generally picks the new kid on the block: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. I wonder if Hillary Rodham, Goldwater Girl of 1964, ever wishes she stuck with her original party.

© 2008 Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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