Monday, March 9, 2009

President Slumdog: Posted February 28, 2009 | 11:24 AM (EST) on Huffington Post

The silver screen is both a reflection and window into our collective consciousness. Hollywood has had uncanny interactions with presidential politics since Ronald Reagan failed to get the lead in Casablanca and wound up in the White House instead. No doubt there's a parallel universe in which Reagan landed the part and America had a President Humphrey Bogart.
Barack Obama's life has been touched by a glimmer of glamour since Guess Who's Coming to Dinner -- the 1967 classic about two liberal parents whose daughter brings home a black fiancé that she (like Obama's mama) met at the University of Hawaii.

I've been using my handy cinemascope to see around corners since China Syndrome, a movie about a nuclear power plant meltdown, was released a dozen days before America's worst nuclear accident took place at Three Mile Island. Life imitates art with a vengeance in our brave new world. Just before the Iowa primary last year I was trying hard to come up with a plausible scenario for how a country that was significantly racist, xenophobic, undereducated and overweight could possibly elect a skinny black guy from Harvard named Barack Hussein Obama. My son had my number. "A black sheriff?" he asked, perfectly imitating the line from Blazing Saddles. "In Mel I trust." I replied and never looked back. An audaciously improbable, darkly comic screwball happy ending that was the last best hope for mankind's last best hope winked her most seductive come hither smile. Hither we came.
But Bill Clinton's assertion that the Obama candidacy was a "fairy tale" proved deeply ironic. For all the superficial elements of a fresh prince sweeping America off her feet, it turned out that Obama was the only candidate inhabiting a truly adult narrative. Like the hero of Slumdog Millionaire, his ability to detach himself from the moment and carefully draw upon relevant episodes in his life allows him to serve not merely as protagonist but as his own narrator. This is what empowered him to write his own ticket.

An adult narrative assumes that you are, like everyone else, the hero of your story but also your own worst enemy. That every antagonist you have is someone you've antagonized. From this perspective, there are no good guys or bad guys, just more or less well intentioned people who are more or less confused. This detachment from his own narrative allows Obama to read each would-be adversary like a book and recruit them into supporting roles, willingly or not. See the unbridled ambition and narcissism of the Clintons harnessed to the Obama chariot. Our new president gets to focus 100% on the economy while maintaining a very formidable and public presence abroad. And by practically designating Hillary heir apparent, Obama made her the most forceful secretary of state since Henry Kissinger, enhanced but unencumbered by Bill's back channel relationships. See the congressional Republicans rise to the bait and assume the role of perfect obstructionist foils. Watch him appear so resistant to nationalization that even Alan Greenspan is begging for it! Obama will nationalize the banks after he's made it absolutely clear to all that he really doesn't want to get thrown into that briar patch. And if John McCain wants to be an asshole to him--well, even the president needs a perfect asshole.

The left worries about Obama for obvious reasons. He knows their narrative backwards and forwards but remains detached even as he embodies it. Democrats have certainly had their share of vacillators-in-chief with Clinton and Carter. There are pronouncements of this administration that to a jaded left ear might sound like déjà vu all over again.

To best see Obama's future, read his past. He defied all probability when he became a community organizer, settled into south-side Chicago and embraced an African American identity; in many ways the available identity most foreign to his own. But even so, he embraced it as being emblematic of the American identity, the poor, tired and huddled masses longing to be free; the essence of the American promise, not the exception. Obama is the brother from another planet. It is written and it's being produced.He'll carefully consider every alternate narrative there is, first. But in the end it will be change we can believe in. That's his story and he's sticking to it.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

LOVE this post. Checks and balances are great, but it is nice to see a president who really can write his own narrative and it is encouraging to see a president who desires such a good one.