I go back over this blog’s past few months and have to cringe a little over my political prognostications of Hillary’s demise and excess enthusiasm for Barack Obama who, it turns out, is mortal, flawed, and perhaps worst of all, a rather ordinary politician. He still might become president and still might be an adequate president. But he is not what I thought he was, nor what most of us thought he was. He is one more in a long line of Democrats who have been packaged by political geniuses to suit the temper of the times; who, in the end, can’t live up to the hype carefully designed on their behalf.
Kurt Andersen’s piece in New York provides a kind of elegy for the grand illusion that some of us (not just those “in the media”) shared:
Back in February, when the new prince was gliding thrillingly up and up toward nomination, a part of the thrill for the media was their happy astonishment that they were no longer cosmopolitan outliers but finally (unlike in 1984 with Gary Hart) in sync with America: Regular folks, white people in Iowa and Virginia and Wisconsin, were actually voting for Obama!
That was then. With the ten-point loss in Pennsylvania, the latest Reverend Wright eruption, and the shrinkage of Obama’s leads in the polls, the media are feeling lousy, and not just because their guy is taking a beating. If Obama is deemed to be an effete, out-of-touch yuppie, then the effete-yuppie media Establishment that’s embraced him must be equally oblivious and/or indifferent to the sentiments of the common folk.
Uh-oh. As the cratering of newspaper circulations accelerates (thousands a week are now abandoning the Times) and network-news audiences continue to shrink, for big-time mainstream journalists to seem even more out of touch makes some of them panic. And … so … it’s all … his fault, that highfalutin Obama!
Andersen’s still rooting for Obama but more, it appears, because he can’t abide the alternative: A Clinton win. The Clintons were merely tolerated all along, at least after 1994, because they were up against unattractive enemies. But the Obama vs. Clinton matchup has unleashed the anti-Clinton id, the beast many of us kept in the cellar throughout the 90s, the silent acknowledge that these people are liars! and what Bill did with Monica was disgusting! and how dare they cart off official gifts from dignitaries as if they owned them! and Jesus, he pardoned Mark Rich!? and how can she live with herself after screwing up health care reform? It’s hard to stop once you get started, and the Obama/Clinton contrast certainly got a lot of us started.
But the depressing fact is: Obama’s not up for this. He’s already looking defeated. He’s clearly embarrassed by the man who’s been revealed over the past couple of months. Not Rev. Wright, but himself. He hears questions about his judgment and is too smart not to agree at some level. The real explanation for his dalliances with the likes of Rev. Wright, Tony Rezco, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn — that if you want to succeed in southside Chicago politics, you need to show up with such people — isn’t acceptable to the broad American public and he knows it.
It isn’t fair, really. Bush, Gore, Kerry, Clinton, McCain, whoever you want to cite, they all cut deals with frauds, kooks and boodlers on their ways up the greazy pole, as did most of their legendary political predecessors. This is the dark side of “all politics is local.” Few politicians emerge from their home base without enemies and alliances that, later, they’ll wish they hadn’t made. Harry Truman was a product of the corrupt Pendergast machine in Kansas City. JFK’s ties with organized crime went back to his father’s years as a bootlegger, the source of much of the family fortune, and the connection obviously helped him secure Illinois’ electoral votes and thus the White House. Ronald Reagan’s relationship with MCA president Lew Wasserman was corrupt on both sides, to their mutual benefit and ultimately sparked Reagan’s political rise. Al Gore and his father had a crucial relationship with oilman and Soviet tool Armand Hammer. None of these men would have become president or vice-president without the help of their unsavory sponsors.
But, no matter. Obama’s political life has caught up with him and he’s become the proverbial deer in headlights ever since. He can’t go back to the gossamer appeals to hope. But he lacks much else to recommend him. Other than not being Hillary and not being McCain, for those who dislike those two warhorses.