Saturday, August 30, 2008

Salesman for Socialism

Like Harold Hill in The Music Man selling dreams to the parents of River City, for two decades Barack Obama wandered the streets of politics in Chicago then the byways of America, all the while selling to credulous want-to-be believers a toe-tapping tune without any lyrics.

It's become impossible to know whether Senator Obama himself has fallen into the fabulous web he's woven with the silk of his skillfully constructed sentences and teleprompted phrases. Is he merely a convincing salesman or has he become just another victim of the confidence game he plays?

Like the residents of eight of the little boxes on Hollywood Squares, like Charo shaking on late night TV, Barack Obama has become well-known only for being well-known.

He's led no vast armies in conquest, written no learned papers, made no scientific discoveries, nor managed great engines of commerce, not governed a state, nor city, nor even the smallest town. Even in the house known as the greatest deliberative body on earth, he's not known to have deliberated more or better than any of the 99 others.

In her gracious endorsement speech at the Democratic convention in Denver, Hillary Clinton remarked how she has seen Obama on the Senate floor, leading one wag, given Senator Obama's continuous campaigning since his election to the Senate, to wonder if that was physically possible.

It's a good question.

The Senator has become sensitive to descriptions of his celebrity, but he is its father, as he's fostered it in word and deed. His visual settings—think Berlin with his paid camera crews feeding free video to the networks, or the Denver stadium decorated by Brittany's set designer—are not platforms for thoughtful exposition but showcases for icons, for stars. His smoothly delivered comments are this year's version of the miracle of speaking in tongues, as each in his audience hears the words most appealing to his ears, to her heart.

The trombones playing in the background, the thin steak underlying the sizzle is Senator Obama's complete devotion to solutions of, by and from the government. Whatever the issue, however personal the problem, his universal answer lies in more government regulation, more government programs, more transfers of wealth from those who have to those who need.

Senator Obama has spent his entire working life using words to ingratiate himself with others. He promises to arrange to have done for them what they cannot do for themselves. It's the theme that has built his working career—"civil rights" lawyer, "community actitivist," state official, senator, candidate. It has influenced his choice of friends, such as Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, William Wright. It's a mindset reflected in his marriage to a woman who views America as an essentially mean society that has spent the past twenty-five years sliding downhill. To Senator Obama, a growing government is good, but the very best government is the one that is led by Mr. Obama.

Robert Preston's musical version of the con ended well, with the citizens of River City marching off behind the bandleader into a harmonious future.

For myself, I'd rather wait to see the film version of Obama's story than play a supporting role in the reality.

Salesman: How far are you going, friend?
Harold Hill: Wherever the people are as green as their money, friend.

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