WASHINGTON -- As I suggested a few weeks ago, Sen. Barack H. Obama is not going to have an easy time of it. For one thing, Sen. John McCain is a much tougher candidate than has been suspected. Looking over his career, one will note that McCain learned politics before ever entering politics. As a young Navy liaison to the Senate in the 1970s, he worked effectively with Democratic and Republican hawks to reverse the post-Vietnam military decline. He, having managed the largest fighter squadron in the Navy, has management skills of which he can boast, as Sen. Obama cannot -- despite the junior senator from Illinois' prodigious capacity to boast. McCain's budget for his squadron was more than $1 billion. Finally, in this inhospitable year for Republicans, McCain's record of independent conservatism positions him so that he is difficult to attack and poised to pounce.
Thus, I am not surprised to see the likely Democratic presidential standard-bearer slip into a dead heat this week with the likely Republican presidential standard-bearer. What is more, readers of this column might recall that weeks ago, I spotted the darkest of dark clouds glowering down on the unctuous young senator's halo. In a word, he seems to be victimized by the bizarre. As befell Jimmy Carter years ago, perfectly commonplace phenomena suddenly haunt the candidate's campaign. A waffle appears on his breakfast plate while he is waffling . He laments the price of arugula at his upscale Whole Foods store while campaigning in rural Iowa. His speech becomes a series of gaffes, allowing us to rechristen the affable senator the gaffable senator. Soon all civilized members of the electorate begin to snicker every time the Prophet Obama steps toward a microphone -- nose raised heavenward, eyes glistening -- to pontificate on the metaphysics of "hope," the imminence of "change," and the glories of "tomorrow" or "the day after tomorrow" or anytime in the future -- just get us through this god-awful vacuous speech.
Yes, I think the Prophet Obama is in trouble. Thus, members of the Obama cult within the media are striving to ever-higher levels of inventiveness to maintain their oracle's exulted presence in the presidential race. One tactic they tried this week was to claim that Obama haters on the fringes of the blogosphere have been planting slanderous misinformation about the prophet among members of the moron vote. Some claim that he is a covert Muslim. Others insist he attended Islamic schools in a faraway country. Still others spread the rumor that he smokes cigarettes, possibly even indoors. None of this is true, cult members in the press insist. So he should be elected president.
An even more inventive tactic was tried by a reporter for The New York Times, Bill Carter. His thesis is that it is almost impossible to get a laugh off the suave, erudite, eloquent, highly intelligent, incomparably gifted Prophet Obama. Yes, the same Obama who had so much difficulty several months back with the waffle and the gaffability, and was he attacked by that amphibious rabbit, or was it Jimmy Carter who was ambushed? The Times reporter looked everywhere for drolleries or witticisms about Obama and came up empty-handed.
He sifted through the late-night humor of the talk shows. He interviewed writers for the late-night comics. What he came up with were lines such as this: "The thing is he (the Prophet Obama) is not buffoonish in any way." That is the judgment of Mike Barry, "who," according to the Times, "started writing political jokes for Johnny Carson" and "has lambasted every presidential candidate since." Or savor this observation from ABC's late-night host, Jimmy Kimmel: "I think it's more a problem (writing jokes about the prophet) because he's so polished he doesn't seem to have any flaws."
What we, of course, see here is surreptitious praise of the prophet by a cult member who assumes a high level of stupidity among his readers. He also assumes they never listen to talk radio, especially talk radio's Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh has been laughing it up at Obama's expense for months. He has his own funny lines. He airs skits by the amusing political impersonator Paul Shanklin. Then, too, Rush has enlisted his longtime colleague Bo Snerdly to serve as "Official Obama Criticizer." Anyone familiar with Limbaugh's work -- and there are many millions -- knows that you can get an avalanche of laughter working the Obama persona. My only complaint is that Rush calls him "The Messiah." To my mind, Obama is The Prophet -- only I am not quite certain of what he is prophesying. He is so famously vague.