Main Street U.S.A.: Trials and the Celebrity-in-Chief

Bill Murchison
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Posted: Sep 05, 2009 12:01 AM
Main Street U.S.A.: Trials and the Celebrity-in-Chief

They're all over him -- swarms, flocks, flights of critics taking apart President Obama: his style, his motives, his modus operandi, assuming he has one.

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.

You could tell at the Democratic National Convention what was afoot. That Hollywood set the party constructed for him -- the Temple of Obama, Republicans called it. The Republicans, who were about to nominate an old warhorse as opposed to a young colt, knew what was coming at them and cannily inserted Sarah Palin into the proceedings. But the financial collapses x-ed out that gambit.

Such is electoral politics in the age of Omnipresent Media. A candidate has to wow 'em -- make 'em laugh, hope, cry, dream. Alas for the process, the candidate, once chosen, has to have some idea of what he's doing. We can likely all agree that Barack Obama had and has some idea as to what he would like to do. Or is it safer to say "some vision"?

Obama has failed, fairly dismally so far, to match interior vision with exterior reality. How do we come up with an extra trillion dollars to finance a federal health care takeover, and why are we even talking about it with deficits soaring? And how do you convince 300 million people in a matter of months that the health care system that most find acceptable is a ruin and wreck in need of replacement? Those would be just a few of the questions crying out for answers, which our celebrity-in-chief may or may not bring us in coming days.

A McCain voter feels a confession coming on: an odd but necessary one. The confession is that he feels more than a little sorry for Barack Obama, a president seemingly in over his head at a moment of exquisite need for a pro, a vet, a warhorse if you will.