Dreams from Obama

Dreams from Obama

By David Warren - July 24, 2008

Seriousness is a perception, and I am struck by the tone of American media, even from the conservative side, as they review the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. (John McCain is also running, but they're not covering that.) The welter of his empty rhetorical gestures and contradictions are analyzed with a gravity to suggest deep thought had gone into each twist of his "evolving" electoral manifesto.

Running for the Democrat nomination, Obama posed as the reliable progressive, free of all Clintonian baggage -- as a kind of "Hillary Clinton you can believe in." He would get out of Iraq, cut a deal with Iran, bomb Pakistan, trash America's free trade agreements, deliver socialist medicine, cool global warming, and "heal" everything that ails you. Shades of John F. Kennedy: at least in his supporters' imagination.

Running now against a Republican, and with the progressive vote safely in the bag, he will stay the course in Iraq, confront Iran, show diplomacy in Pakistan, defend free trade, spend cautiously, ignore global warming, and "heal" everything that ails you. Shades of Ronald Reagan.

The most laughable part of the campaign is the new, first-ever, "I am the world" tour, currently in progress. Obama, realizing he has no credentials in this field, but is even more a rock star abroad than at home, seeks photo ops looking presidential in front of backdrops such as the Brandenburg Gate. Of course, he cannot get all the backdrops he wants, since his demand for them as a mere candidate for office is unprecedented, and leaves foreign leaders embarrassed that he asked.

Still, there he was yesterday, chatting with e.g. Iraq's tribal leaders, in shirtsleeves to their decorous Western suits, and perhaps unknowingly projecting across the Middle East the subtly comic notion of the presumptive heir. They have seen that sort of thing before: the sheikh's flash offspring, fresh off the jet, and looking rather wet behind the ears. But soon enough he'll be doing what the powerful do.

We await the promised Beatlemaniac reception from the fainting teenagers of Europe, when Obama descends upon the various chancelleries as into a series of Ed Sullivan shows.

He has one good, solid argument, in foreign policy: that he is not George W. Bush. Obama would come to power without the cumulative bad press of the hopelessly uncool Texan incumbent.

For the first five minutes of his presidency, Obama would indeed be greeted abroad as the anti-Bush. He would enjoy a shower of popularity, and by extension, America would bathe in the sort of sympathy and solidarity from Europe's intellectuals that was last poured upon her during the five minutes after 9/11. Then he will start making decisions that any American president would have to make, and the honeymoon will mysteriously end. For style without substance is evanescent. It can rule only in the absence of substance.

My objection to Obama is not, per se, to his leftwing views -- monotonously demonstrated in his Senate voting record, when he was there. I do not doubt that his instinct will be to feint Left whenever possible; I think his progressive supporters can rely on that. But I, who am no progressive, would fear the ideological threat -- from a barmy, politically-correct policy agenda -- more in a candidate who had some weight, and accomplishments behind him. I'd fear a man I thought actually believed in half of what he was saying; a man who might, in fact, take risks for what he believed to be true. An Al Gore would be frightening in that way.

In Obama's case, I flinch at the opposite. He's a candle in the wind, a leaf on the breeze. He has no "vision" whatever, of his own or of America's place in the world. He is good at writing "charisma" speeches, and even better at delivering them.

Read what Ronald Reagan wrote, in his own hand, and often only to himself, over many years (there is the collection aptly entitled: Reagan, In His Own Hand) -- and you find a man who is consistently thinking about his people and his nation, about what is right and what will work. Then read Obama's Dreams From My Father. It is all about finding himself. It is a well-written book, an interesting piece of literature, but it is strictly narcissistic.

Obama's deeper appeal is also to people who are "looking for themselves," obsessively; who have little or no "formation" (as the Catholics call it), no hard core of tested beliefs, forged in confrontation with the world; no beliefs to go to the Wall for. Instead he lightly holds the transient opinions of his progressive milieu, like a chameleon. Which is to say, absolutely consistent in colouration, until the background changes.

I preferred Bush in the 2000 Republican primary, chiefly because he was not John McCain. Now I find myself preferring McCain for President, chiefly because he is not Barack Obama.

© Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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