I was sitting on the dock at Thanksgiving with a friend, an investment banker. He was perplexed. "I get creepy e-mails on Obama," he said. "A real barrage. Stressing his middle name. His provenance. Equating him to Hitler. My question is, When did it start? Or were people always this crazy?"
I don't think it was always thus. I think Barack Obama makes people uniquely crazy, on all sides. Take his Nobel Peace Prize.
It drove right-wingers batty, predictably. But leftist Michael Moore, whose new film is an attack on capitalism, wrote snarkily, "Congratulations. ... Now earn it." Then a day later -- and this is what proves that he induces insanity -- Mr. Moore took it back and said he'd been too hard on the President.
Barack Obama's like a political Rorschach test, a blank screen onto which anyone can project their own private Obama. He's like Chance the gardener, who also made it into the White House, just by Being There.
The Obaminsanity of the right is fairly random. They're promoting a new Bible translation because, said Phyllis Schlafly's son, other versions "are done by professors at liberal universities who overwhelmingly voted for Obama." What does Bible-translating have to do with Barack Obama? (It's rhetorical. I know they have an answer.) The left's nuttiness, which intrigues me more due to my own inclinations, is better focused; it's about being seduced and abandoned. "He let us down," mourned a Huffington Post blogger. This is "Bush's third term," wrote someone on TomDispatch.
Ralph Nader says the President has an "excessively concessionary personality" and is "conflict averse." He compares him unfavourably, as do others, to Franklin Roosevelt, who ostensibly told the rich to bring it on. It's a weird contrast, coming from the left, since in the 1930s, it was FDR whom leftists attacked for saving capitalism with half-measures like the New Deal, in order, they said, to ward off socialism. The right hated him, but so did the left.
Besides, the Obama economic quarter-measures have forestalled (so far) the years of deep depression that paved the way for the New Deal. Not to mention the galvanizing rise of radical movements and unions in the 1930s, or the threat of an alternative posed then by the Soviet model.
Anyway, Barack Obama never said he was left. The right charges he is and the left rages he isn't. He seems to think he's post-all-that: left/right, the Cold War. He has the advantage of not being able to recall where he was in the Cuban missile crisis. What leftists seem to forget, when they fume, is that, er, He's the President.
You don't get there as a leftist or socialist. If those are your goals -- as Ralph Nader may have learned -- you don't win. You can't just hide it all, then pull it out when you move into the White House.
What else drives both sides wild? He seems to be having a good time.
Early on, when asked about refurbishing his helicopter, he said it seemed fine to him, but then he'd never had one before -- like a new toy.
When he visited a burger joint with Vice-President Joe Biden, to show they were real folks, the veep stood as if waiting for the maître d'. But the prez gazed up at the menu, hands in pockets. He hasn't quite forgotten the moves of real life, so he seems to savour it all. As he did dancing with his kids this week at the Latino fest. It does seem odd to enjoy life, when so much he has responsibility for is a mess both at home and abroad, but there you go.
Maybe he really is postideological. The venerable ideologies have failed dramatically: the left one, 20 years back and the right one a year ago.
Could it be the absence of ideological certainty that unsettles people and disposes them to wacky reactions? The only ideology that didn't smash up recently is anarchism, and Barack Obama certainly isn't one of those.
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