Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dickens on the Potomac

Watching Barack Obama’s foreign policy flopping like a Minnesota perch on a White Bear Lake dock this week (as every other week since January 20, 2009) and enduring yet another dose of his wife’s hortative obsession with the size of the collective American bootay—to say nothing of the occasionally slipping-out utterances, when their true natures get the better of them, of the racism-tinged resentment they harbor for many of us, their fellow citizens—I shake my head in wonder for the zillionth time: How did this arrogant overrated swaggerer out of nowhere and his angry bigoted wife wind up running the country? And will the two of them excite as much fond nostalgia, when they’re exiled back to their Hyde Park digs and their black-liberation-theology church, as the Clintons and the Kennedys have done?

There’s still a certain pleasure—maybe it’s a touch unseemly, but whatever—in the memory of Ma and Pa Clinton struggling to hold things together during the dark hours of his impeachment. The astounding rapacity, the infantile self-indulgence, the voracious appetite for things lowdown and dirty that had cruised with him like balanus balanoides from Hope to Little Rock to the White House and allowed him to permit himself to sully the presidency and then lie about it, baldly, made Mr. Clinton a figure of contempt: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. . . . These allegations are false.” No, wait, I mean, “Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.” Uh huh. His wife—in her incarnation as Arkansas’s first lady and then America’s—with her smug piety and frosty acquisitiveness, was as alienating as her husband was weak: Cattle futures? Sharp banking practices? “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.”  Mr. Clinton’s Oval Office romp? “This is—the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.” Exactly.

Did they remind us of the Kennedys? Yes, though probably not in quite the way they’d hoped and expected to do so. The private bargains of the two couples were not our business, but the violation of the office of the presidency most certainly was. Both men needed wives sharp-tongued and virtuous, but liked their squeezes soft and raunchy. Mr. Clinton was hard at it with Miss Lewinsky in 1995 and 1996, but he’d already been outmanned by his declared idol, JFK: Marilyn Monroe vs. Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky? Any questions? And could a U. S. president—never mind his wife’s Frenchified elegant cultivation and the Camelot-as-imagined-by-Broadway-lyricists occupied by his retinue—get any cruder or more sordid than sharing a mistress with Chicago mob bosses? Had he been exposed then, would JFK have lied to Americans about it? We can’t know, owing to Lee Harvey Oswald and the corrupt Kennedy-worshipping of the White House press corps, Ted Sorensen, Arthur Schlesinger, and the rest of his obsequious retainers. But it’s fair to surmise he would have done as much to salvage his presidency as his Papa had done to get it for him. And really, was there ever a president’s father more vulgar or avaricious—or more prepared to flout convention and the law to get his son elected president—than Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.? Or complicit biographers more eager to beatify their subject? Or, for that matter, a pair of brothers more shamelessly willing to profit from proximity, pre- and especially post-mortem, to their sibling? Only in Shakespeare—or Dickens.

There was no trace of Shakespeare, or Boston ward-heeling, or bootlegging, or vote-stealing, or Las Vegas crime-syndicating in the Clinton orbit, but Dickensian crudity there was in ample supply. That, if it occasionally seemed at odds with Bill’s rockin’-rollin’ technocraticism and Hillary’s holier-than-thou sexual-revolution priggishness—and their joint 1960s-born sense of entitlement—shimmered in the sub-tropical oleaginous Little Rock air, permeating their skins for nearly two decades before they arrived in Washington and unpacked the first generation of draft-dodging baby-boomers onto the White House lawn to grow there like Topsy.

What Mr. Clinton did have that Mr. Kennedy hadn’t was time to unfold himself in full as a liberal-world-orderist; but no matter—he was as disappointing on this score, even occasionally to himself, as JFK had showed promise he would be during the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Khrushchev spanking, to name an obvious few. Mrs. Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda’s husband sat on his hands as the Rwandan genocide took place (“I blew it”), watched the (first) al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the U.S.S. Cole, without responding, tried desperately to curry favor with the blood-stained Yasser Arafat, hosting the terrorist at the White House thirteen times—more often than any other foreign . . . leader, if “leader” be the word for what that creature was—in a hopeless attempt to secure the chimerical Middle East Peace. And all the while engaging in, then lying about, then defending his “not appropriate” relationship with Miss Lewinsky, and who knows how many others.

Which brings me back to crassness Obamaesque: It isn’t about sex, or the definition of sexual relations, or the meaning of the word “is”; and it isn’t about French-accented elegance-covered venality, even if venality there surely has been in their lives, or about French chefs in the White House kitchen—though in part it does involve the kitchen garden sowed, so they say, by Mrs. Obama’s own personal two hands, with the help of a bunch of elementary school students (some of the same children, maybe, who’ve been deprived by her husband and his co-teachers-union-religionists in Congress—whose own children attend private schools—of access to the vouchers and grants for the private-school educations their parents are so desperate to get for them?), and used as a trowel to shovel good nutrition down our throats. 

It’s the hagiolatry, including Mr. Obama’s own two contributions to the published literature, elaborating his stratospheric brilliance, it’s the brazen vanity of the man: “I have a gift,” “Every place is Barack Obama country once Barack Obama’s been there,” and, best of all, given two years’ worth of foreign-policy disasters, “foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain”; it’s the ugly (and duplicitous) disloyalty to old friends when they’ve stood in the way of the main chance: “I never heard [Reverend Wright] say some of the things that have people upset.” No, I mean, “Our relations with Trinity [United Church of Christ] have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views.” Or “We've got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois.” That is, “I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place”; and it’s the shameless whining about the great good fortune of being president of the United States: “You know, the typical president, I think, has two or three big problems. We’ve got seven or eight big problems,” that are so vulgar.

Add to this the remnant of the racism that punctuated his wife’s senior thesis at Princeton (“Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second”) and rises to the surface in both of them from time to time, like pond scum after a storm—“For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change”—and you have a pair as comically and tragically Dickensian as ever the Kennedys and Clintons were. Alas that all their comedic drama must also be imprinted on our memories, and some of it even in our history books.



  1. I've been studying and making videos on the Obamas for three years and have been looking for the answer to the question of who they are. You got it right as far as you went but there's much more there.

    When Jack Cashill deconstructed Dreams From My Father and revealed Bill Ayer's partcicpation, this awakened me to how really radical Obama was.

    Revelations from John Drew about Obama's life at Occidental reveal that Obama had a gay relationship with his Pakistani roommate. Add that to the fact that Michelle was his first girlfriend and you came to the conclusion that Obama isn't just our first black president.

    I realize conservatives with a few exceptions close the door on these revelations. That's why they'll never know the real obama.

  2. Good job Rachel. The real shame of it is that these two could be leading a celebration of the end of racism in America. After his historic election, isn't that what any decent man would do?

  3. But Rachel , pls tell us how you really feel .One thing you left out, and it accounts for a good deal of the O 's arrogance ,is their glide through school.Notwithstanding that we have never seen a transcript fron either Columbia or Harvard , O is now wrapped in the mantle of those schools' glory , now well faded. Whatever justification of affirmative action / quotas there might have been , neither Barry nor Michelle ever experienced discrimination , except the reverse kind . I think once Barry's name appeared on a class roster his 'A' was in the bag . I was once in an Ivy graduate program with a man v. much like Barry : charming ,buff and GQ handsome . He also glided through the program , took an A by showing up and rec'd the plum positions . After a few adult bevereges one evening , I asked him to what he attributed his success . His accurate and nonetheless cynical reponse was " white guilt" in rather more words than that , spoken as I recall with the wry smile of someone who was at home with that recognition . My colleague was honest with me and more importantly honest with himself . Barry actually believes he is all that and that is one of his principal flaws . (The other is that I don't think he is really very 'smart', rather he is a victim of his own misperceptions of himself ) .BTW the faculty that my friend gamed so effectively was all Jewish, except one black prof who was v . well regarded by we students . But then , he was somewhat older , Tom Sowells generation and had made his bones legit .

  4. over the long run (1-2 years) you can't spin gas prices and unemployment numbers ...

    Obama is toast in 2012 no matter how many speeches he gives or how many halo's the MSM puts around his head in photo's.

    In fact the more the talks the worse it will go for him. He is actually his own worst enemy. Everytime he talks he makes measurable promises that his policies can never fulfill.

  5. (Sigh) 100% Obama-ccurate.. And the sad fact is that it was all obvious BEFORE the election to anyone who could be bothered to look. The country had enough sense to dump his spiritual dad, Peanuts Carter after one term. I hope the last 3 decades of the public educational system has left enough lights on to allow for a repeat of that intelligent decision in 2012.

  6. p-i Make that 5 decades. It started in the 60's and it's a lost cause.

  7. Thank you, Rachel for a delightful read.

    The word "vulgar" is underutilized in today's society and is so descriptive of so much of today's behaviors, so neatly embodied in the Clintons and Obamas, and yes, the private lives of (both if not all) Kennedys.

    I think Obama's narcissism and self adulation prevent him from any self appraisal or introspection that would assist in what normal people would call "self improvement." When you're perfect, there's no need for self analysis, so I don't expect any change from him or his charming spouse.

    He is an odd admixture of stubborn dogmatism and spineless dithering.

    As the economy staggers along and the Mideast erupts in violence, Obama blithely proposes infrastructure and high speed rail projects to "Win the Future." WTF indeed. Heads should roll over that one alone, unless Obama has a more highly evolved sense of humor than anyone could have imagined... Na.

    Obama is the most humorless, grim president we've had in a while. Not a good sign. At least JFK was self deprecating and witty.

  8. Dear Bad Rachel,

    We should shorten that to BR. I found you via Lucianne who aggregated your brother from some forum or other. This a delicious piece, and more mild than it could have been. Consider yourself book marked. I tell my kids to beware of democrats and adverbs. I may delete the adverb part. Sometimes they convey the perfect sense of enhancement.
    Best regards.

  9. Great post! But you forgot about the white trailer trash Clintons stealing White House furniture as they headed out the door.