Valerie Jarrett announced the other day that “we’re going to speak truth to power.”
Who’s Valerie Jarrett? She’s “Senior Advisor” to the president of the United States — i.e., the leader of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. You would think the most powerful man in the most powerful nation would find a hard job finding anyone on the planet to “speak truth to power” to. But I suppose if you’re as eager to do so as his Senior Advisor, there’s always somebody out there: The Supreme Leader of Iran. The Prime Minister of Belgium. The Deputy Tourism Minister of the Solomon Islands. But no. The Senior Advisor has selected targets closer to home: “I think that what the administration has said very clearly is that we’re going to speak truth to power. When we saw all of the distortions in the course of the summer, when people were coming down to town-hall meetings and putting up signs that were scaring seniors to death. . . . ”
Ah, right. People “putting up signs.” Can’t have that, can we? The most powerful woman in the inner circle of the most powerful man on earth has decided to speak truth to powerful people standing in the street with handwritten placards saying “THIS GRAN’MA ISN’T SHOVEL READY.” Was it only a week ago that I wrote about this administration’s peculiar need for domestic enemies?
#ad#The Senior Advisor seems to have forgotten that she is the power. Admittedly, this is a recurring lapse on the part of the administration. There was Barack Obama only the other day blaming everything on the president — no, no, silly, not him, the other fellow, the Designated Fall Guy who stepped down as head of state in January to accept the new constitutional position of Blame Czar. Musing on problems in Afghanistan, Obama blamed the “long years of drift” under his predecessor. The new president — okay, newish president — has been Drifter-in-Chief for almost a year but he’s too busy speaking truth to the former power to get on top of the situation. It could be a while yet. In his more self-regarding moments, such as his speech to the U.N., he gives the strong impression that the “long years of drift” began in 1776.
Rocco Landesman, head honcho at the National Endowment for the Arts, seems closer to the reality of the situation. In his keynote address to the 2009 “Grantmakers in the Arts” Conference, Landesman hailed Obama as “the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar.” He didn’t mean a “powerful writer” as in a compelling voice, gripping narrative, vivid characterization, command of language, etc. He meant a “powerful writer” as in Caesar was king of the world, and now Obama is. He came; he saw; he stimulated: “If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.”
I suppose so. He could invade somewhere and force the natives to accept degrading roles in NEA-funded performance art. He could take out the Iranian nuclear program by carpet-bombing it with unreadable literary novels. That is, if you “accept the premise” that the United States is the most powerful country in the world. Rocco Landesman may, but it’s not clear, from his actions (or inactions) in Eastern Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, that the president does. But, even so, it seems an odd pitch to “American artists.” Rocco Landesman, Speaking Goof to Power, isn’t the first Obama groupie to enjoy the kinky frisson of groveling obsequiousness, but he’s set an impressive new standard in public revelation thereof. Rocco’s aunt, Fran Landesman, is the great lyricist of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” as well as “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men.” But surely there are few sadder middle-aged men than her nephew prostrating himself before his master as the most literate global colossus in two millennia.
Meanwhile, Larry David is now doing televised NEA exhibits on his HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Christians are said to be “angry” at him because of an episode in which, after he accidentally sprays his urine on a picture of Jesus, his assistant mistakes the droplets for tears and calls in her mother to witness the miracle of Christ weeping. Ha-ha! Oh, those brave transgressive artists! Of course, Christians aren’t “angry” in the sense that two U.S. residents arrested last week are. The pair — one an American citizen, the other Canadian — were so “angry” about the Mohammed cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that they hatched a plot to kill the artist and his editor. As many commentators pointed out, Mr. David’s splashy stunt is a dreary provocation: It’s easy to be provocative with people who can’t be provoked. If he were to start urinating in a more Mecca-ly direction, he’d find an entirely more motivated crowd waiting for him at the stage door.
#ad#But I liked the point made by the Anchoress, a writer at the magazine First Things: Putting Mohammed et al aside, if Larry David had a yen to urinate hither and yon, wouldn’t it have been “braver” to have done it to the religious icon du jour? That’s to say, Barack Obama. And then maybe Ashton Kutcher could have marveled at how even Obama’s image was empathizing tearily with all 687 million Americans without health insurance. Or, alternatively, dribbling warm champagne from his Norwegian Nobel banquet toast. C’mon, Larry. Sure, you might not have a career afterward, but, unlike any Islamo-provocations, you’re not gonna get killed. Just fired, and probably damned as a racist. But at least you wouldn’t be a simpering suck-up to power like Rocco Landesman and the other creeps.
At some point the Caesar cult has to manifest itself in an achievement — I mean a real achievement, not merely some dud prize handed out by Norwegian lefties. Afghanistan is his now: Notwithstanding “years of drift,” whether it winds up as victory or defeat is his call. It’s Obama’s war. It’s Obama’s economy. The stimulus bill is his stimulus, and for $787 billion it created 30,000 new jobs (according to the government) or (according to the Associated Press) 25,000. Either way, you do the math. It’s Obama’s unemployment rate, Obama’s dollar, Obama’s debt. Pace Valerie Jarrett, the truth is you are the power. And those on the receiving end of it are going to be speaking a lot louder in the months ahead.