The Corner

Barack Obama, Movie Star

The Los Angeles Times has a doozy of an op-ed today by Neal Gabler — “Obama: star of his own movie” which makes the case Obama’s “‘celebrity’ comes from an emotional identity with voters, not from ‘rock star’ hysteria.” I suppose it’s possible that sometime between now and November I’ll read a more shallow op-ed preening with self-satisfaction over its lofty conceit. But I’m thinking that’s unlikely:

Critics, not least of all John McCain, have complained that this is merely windy rhetoric — high-blown but ultimately empty. Eventually, they say, Obama will come back to Earth the way rock stars do when the concert ends. But this misses the point of what Obama has tapped into, as well as the point of movie stardom itself. Yes, politicians can declaim themes, and Obama is doing that. Yet Obama is not just declaiming his theme the way most politicians have. He has lived it, which is why it has been so effective.

Of course McCain is a hero in his own right, but his narrative is familiar — it’s a war movie after all — and his feat is that of having survived, which in a Hollywood film is not the same thing as having led the rescue.

Now the writer is correct — the criticism of Obama is that he’s just declaiming themes, but what pray tell is the evidence that Obama has lived such “high-blown” themes as change and hope, much less led the rescue of anything? Is he referring to his accomplishments in the Senate, of which there really are none? Is it how he spent years valiantly railing against the corrupt Chicago political establishment, which never happened?

As for the inane movie star conceit, is Gabler really dissmissing John McCain’s narrative as a P.O.W. as familiar and a pedestrian tale of “survival”? Because the stories of courageous P.O.W.’s have never been fodder for classic movies. Or is Gabler just unaware that McCain’s life story is more compelling than most, such that they’ve already made a movie out of it? 

I presume Gabler thinks what we really need is a movie about a sensitive young man who, despite being raised in relative affluence, overcomes a negative self-image brought on by his racist grandmother before going on to a triumphal and dynamic episode as editor of the Harvard Law Review, eventually rising through the ranks of the Illinois legislature where he succeeds by mastering the art of voting “present,” before dipping his toe in the Senate so he can be crowned leader of free world. For my money, that sounds about as exciting as Phonebook: The Movie.

Or more likely, McCain pegged Obama yesterday when he said,  “Taking in my opponent’s performances is a little like watching a big summer blockbuster, and an hour in realizing that all the best scenes were in the trailer you saw last fall.”

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