Charles Krauthammer, in a dead-on column, called him "Obama the Mortal." Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal, sought to close the deal: "Obama has grown boring … He always has the same stance. There is no humor or humility in it … He is cold …" Cries of alarm escaped the mouth of Time Magazine's Joe Klein: "He has to lead, clearly and decisively, starting now." How's he going to restore his sagging popularity and procure enactment of health care reform?Well, we'll see. There's a lot more out there to look at, even so. What we see, when we really look hard, are the consequences of celebrity politics. In naming Obama their chief magistrate, American voters handed over their credit cards for a pig in a poke -- as, by the way, they had been warned along the way to avoid doing. They no more knew how Obama would perform, than they knew why real estate prices were collapsing.
They knew he wasn't George W. Bush, and that was a good start. They thought they sensed even more -- wit, intellectual brilliance, the ability to coax birds out of trees (and, inferentially, to coax votes out of hard-headed congressional bulls). He would bring us together as one people despite persistent differences over, just to name one thing, racial relationships. He would challenge us, prod us, heal us, change us.
We swooned dead away. What a guy! The media said so with stale regularity. Wasn't it true? If not, why did they keep saying it? Meanwhile the crowds swarmed around, loving what they saw.
This poker in a poke -- to borrow E. B. White's celebrated phrase -- was obviously "some pig." He had no political track record to speak of. He'd never met a payroll, never passed an important bill, never administered anything larger than a senatorial office. Still, couldn't the guy speak? Yes, he could, even when you count reading a teleprompter as speaking. He was new, he was different, the media loved him, the Democrats (including Ted Kennedy) came to concur, and, well, there was no end to it.
He was a celeb: in some sense the political equivalent of Brad and Angelina and Leo and Kate and Jon and Jessica and Simon and … and … you get it. Far more intelligent, of course -- how many aren't? Maybe nicer as well. Still, a celeb -- new and hot and mysterious. And we bit.