Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Not Ready for Rushmore

Not Ready for Rushmore

The heady early days of the Obama administration are already coming to a close. In the beginning, there was "The One," and he was going to save us all. He ran for president presenting himself as a personality, more like Brittney Spears than Abraham Lincoln or JFK. But as he transitions from candidate to executive his cult of personality is losing members by the day, yet he is only two weeks into the actual job we hired him for.

Before he was inaugurated it was suggested that he be carved into Mount Rushmore, beside George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt, or perhaps carve TR into a likeness of Obama. After all, went the story, he would certainly prove to be more important to that dead white guy.

OK, maybe those stories were exaggerated, or at least premature. But schools and streets have already been named after him, and Barack has become a very popular name for babies worldwide. All this over a man of little or no accomplishment, other than the mere fact of his election. That was no mean feat by itself, considering his meager beginnings, being the son of a Kenyan student and a young and apparently confused girl.

The sustaining power of the Obama euphoria is credited, in a piece by Peter Berkowitz in today's WSJ, to the obverse of Bush Derangement Syndrome, (BDS) in which:
At first glance, Bush hatred and Obama euphoria could not be more different. Hatred of Mr. Bush went well beyond the partisan broadsides typical of democratic politics. For years it disfigured its victims with open, indeed proud, loathing for the very manner in which Mr. Bush walked and talked. It compelled them to denounce the president and his policies as not merely foolish or wrong or contrary to the national interest, but as anathema to everything that made America great.

In contrast, the euphoria surrounding Mr. Obama's run for president conferred upon the candidate immunity from criticism despite his newness to national politics and lack of executive experience, and regardless of how empty his calls for change. At the same time, it inspired those in its grips, repeatedly bringing them tears of joy throughout the long election season. With Mr. Obama's victory in November and his inauguration last week, it suffused them with a sense that not only had the promise of America at last been redeemed but that the world could now be transfigured.

In fact, Bush hatred and Obama euphoria -- which tend to reveal more about those who feel them than the men at which they are directed -- are opposite sides of the same coin. Both represent the triumph of passion over reason.
Meanwhile, reality must intrude into the ruminations of those in thrall to this passion. Just as BDS will fade with time, Obama euphoria must yield to the facts and acts that are so much more persistent than campaign rhetoric. Indeed, Obama's poll numbers are already coming down to Earth. A mere two weeks in, two of the young president's top nominees have had to decline their designations, and Obama's "stimulus" plan has had to go back to the drawing board, as a less than compliant political class has revealed more than a little friction between Obama's leftist wish list and political reality.

In a campaign, it is possible to appear to be all things to all people. When faced with the realities and ambiguities of power, one must choose a side. Even in a political atmosphere as one-sided as obtained two weeks ago there are interests and proclivities that supersede mere love. Compromise in a political process can appear to some as indiscretion, or even betrayal. Not for nothing are awards for accomplishment made to wait for the aftermath. The president's poll numbers will continue to decline so long as fewer than one in five Americans approve of the way things are going. Obama himself has noted that he needs to succeed in banishing the economic storm we are sheltering from, or he could be facing a single term presidency. We shall see.