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December 19, 2008

One Reflection of America

Back in 1992, a seasoned New York Times political satirist said he was concerned that if Bill Clinton got elected, humorists wouldn’t have much to work with – until, that is, Clinton was asked about drug use and replied, “I experimented with marijuana [but] I didn’t inhale.”

Satirists are again expressing similar concerns about Barack Obama, who radiates Clinton’s penchant for smugness, but unlike Clinton, frequently seems somber if not depressed.

Obama and Clinton have similar histories of shattered childhoods, of tragedy piled on misfortune, but Barack had the forethought to pre-empt some questions about his life by framing it in a couple of biographies. For example, the issue of his drug abuse: in “Dreams From My Father,” an early biographical sketch of his broken family, he described himself as a “Junkie. Pothead. That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. … I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind. … We were always playing on the white man’s court.”

More specifically, he wrote, “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though.”

So, are we to gather that Obama, truly a victim of circumstances for which he deserves our compassion, inhaled, but exercised enough self-restraint to refrain from smack (heroin)?

I know plenty of folks of all colors and stripes that were subject to appalling abuse as children, but who, by the grace of God, rose above those circumstances. But Barack Obama is still mired in the chaos of his youth.

The tragedy of Obama’s childhood and adolescence now characterize his foray into adulthood. He would lead us to believe that his anomalous years concluded with his graduation from Harvard and move to Chicago, where, with a little help from his friends, his star has risen faster than any political neophyte in history.

However, as was the case with Clinton, pathological narcissism is the engine propelling Obama’s success, including his willingness to associate with very unsavory characters in order to ensure his advance. Obama’s compulsion to succeed may induce him to fake right while running left; but to underestimate the influence of those who have mentored him, those who “brung him to the dance,” is imprudent, to put it mildly.

A few years ago when visiting Kenya, home of the birth father who abandoned him at age two, Obama spoke of corruption and how it undermines the integrity of government: “My own city of Chicago has been the home of some of the most corrupt politics in American history. Corruption is a problem we all share.”

Now, after having soaked in Chicago’s political cesspool for almost two decades, Obama has emerged looking like a rose, if not so much smelling like one. But, like he says, you can put lipstick on a pig…

Given Obama’s recent endeavor to distance himself from one of his political benefactors, the current kingpin of Chicago corruption, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, I’m certain that he and his ilk will provide plenty of fodder for critics and satirists alike. Whether any of his adoring media toadies would dare to use such material against The One is another issue altogether. Perhaps that chore will be left to an earnest prosecutor.

As I wrote recently in “Team Obamavich,” surely Barack possesses enough political savvy to have insulated his involvement in Blagojevich’s racket with cutouts, disposable emissaries who can take one for the team if necessary – possibly even someone as close to Obama as, say, Rahm Emanuel.

However, could not the president-elect express just a bit of outrage about the explicit and startling corruption charges against his audacious old buddy, Blago, who spent the last month panhandling for big favors in return for the appointment of Obama’s Senate successor?

On the subject of favors, in a September interview, talkinghead Katie Couric tossed Obama one of many softballs: “What is your favorite movie of all time?”

His answer may provide some insight into his own psyche and current “Chicago problem”: “The Godfather,” said Obama, adding that his favorite scene “has to be, the opening where the caretaker comes in and, you know, Marlon Brando is sitting there and he’s saying ‘you disrespected me.’ You know, ‘and now you want a favor.’ It sets the tone for the whole movie. I mean there’s this combination of old world gentility and ritual, with this savagery underneath. It’s all about family, so it’s a great movie.”

Ah yes, it’s all about “family, and the savagery underneath.”

Is it possible that the president-elect has been battered and fried in corruption for so long that he doesn’t have the moral authority or fortitude to condemn Blagojevich? Or is it that Obama has enough residual virtue left to sense that denouncing Blago would constitute an act of hypocrisy greater than even he could stomach?

During his tenure in office, none of Clinton’s corrupt past stuck – not Whitewater, not Travelgate, not Filegate, not what his staff called “Bimbo Eruptions” like credible rape charges and the abuse of a young White House intern. Slick Willie, indeed – the Teflon pres – as the producer of that product notes, “it is best known for its slipperiness, which is useful where non-stick features are important … making cleanup a breeze.”

However, given Barack Obama’s ability rinse clean from a life of antisocial behavior, his association with miscreants, his close affiliation with corrupt politicos, etc., he has discovered something better than Teflon.

The fact is Obama’s political rise is not the result of slick deception and evasion. His ascent to power can be attributed to something much more subtle and, potentially, sinister, with far more ominous implications for the liberty embodied in that august old document, our Constitution.

Some 67 million Americans identify with Obama. They see some part of themselves reflected in his brokenness, his dysfunctional childhood, his victimization, and his search for salvation and his father, in the authority of the state.

The implications of this distorted and perverted mass identity are grave.

History is littered with examples of tragic eras when economic and political upheaval led weaker men to anoint a savior from among their ranks. The tyranny and suffering that inevitably followed cost them, and succeeding generations, far more than their original misfortunes.

We began this week by commemorating the 217th anniversary of the adoption of our Bill of Rights, the first Ten Amendments to our Constitution, as ratified in 1791. Let us pray, then, and let us assume whatever additional burdens are necessary to ensure that we can still recognize those precious rights on their 218th anniversary and beyond.

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