Monday, November 17, 2008

SACRED TEXTS AND PROFANED HISTORY

Sam Smith

When the political media isn't finding new ways to express its infatuation with our first half-black president-elect (while ignoring the total absence of blacks in the Senate), its most obsessive activity these days is quoting from Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals."

This is a familiar phenomenon: a press corps showing off its intellectual abilities by citing some newly discovered sacred text. The book itself may be - as with Goodwin's - worthy or it may be - as with the Rise of the Creative Class or the World is Flat - just airport bookstore blather, but in each case such works are given a journalistic priority beyond all reasonable justification.

To put it as simply as possible, Obama is not Lincoln. What we are living through is not the Civil War and, as Steven Teles points out in Same Facts, there is no parallel between today's Democratic Party and the nascent Republican Party of Lincoln's day: "The Republican party was still not a completely institutionalized entity, and to keep it together in its first shot at power Lincoln needed all the major figures in the party to be represented."

Further, what is required at present is not unity but recovery from the most evil and corrupt administration in our history. What is being proposed instead is that we find peace and common ground with the international criminals and domestic crooks who have been running the place. There is nothing but disaster in such unity.

To be fair, the media has gotten considerable help in propelling the faux Lincoln-Obama parallel from its living beneficiary. (The dead victim of the parallel, I suspect, would be polite but bored by his assigned partner).

After all, Obama began his presidential campaign in Springfield, Illinois, and in his book, The Audacity of Hope, he writes, "In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat-in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. . . "

But it didn't take long for the media to get the message, which is now so out of hand that Newsweek recently pontificated, "Two thin men from rude beginnings, relatively new to Washington but wise to the world, bring the nation together to face a crisis. Both are superb rhetoricians, both geniuses at stagecraft and timing."

In fact, the press, in Obama's case, has been unable to come up with a single example of that rhetoric other than some trite cliches. It is reflective of the sad state of writing in this country that the press can't distinguish the difference or even be as perceptive as Advertising Age which named Obama the marketer of the year. The Association of National Advertisers, according to PR Watch, "voted for Obama's campaign over ad campaigns by major companies like Apple, Zappos, Nike and Coors. Ad Age called Obama's historic November 4 win the 'biggest day in the history of marketing,' saying marketers have a lot to learn from his campaign."

When a British friend was enthusing over the first election of Tony Blair, I told him that I thought I had once bought a used car from Blair on Arlington Boulevard. I feel much the same way about Obama. Where others see a black Jesus I see a highly sophisticated salesman whose main product is himself. And the carefully constructed Lincoln parallel is part of the con.

Obama is in some ways a cleaned up version of Bill Clinton, the last great self salesman we had to confront. Both were deprived of their fathers; Obama at age 2 and Clinton a few months before his birth. Clinton's stepfather was an alcoholic who would lose his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilfering. Young Bill turned to his Uncle Raymond who was a colorful car dealer, slot machine owner and gambling operator, who thrived (except when his house is firebombed) on the fault line of criminality. Add in George W's difficulties living in the shadow of his father and our last three presidencies have been assigned to men working out deep paternal problems.

The difference, however, is that in Obama there is none of that Buick dealer crudeness. We still have a salesman but we've moved up to Fifth Avenue. Which is why a lot of people don't see it.

And why they can't understand the con behind the Team of Rivals talk. Throughout his campaign, Obama promised change. Now, with his election secured, he is openly plotting how to continue the status quo, complete with Hillary Clinton and Republicans as cabinet members.

Yet, thanks to the media obsession with the Lincoln parallel, instead of debating this dubious and deceptive approach, a cynical con has been elevated to historical honor and the change we can count on slowly fades and, in its place, arises potentially the most conservative Democratic president since Woodrow Wilson.

One comfort is that these sacred texts tend to fade as rapidly as they rise. Weles even suggests that if Obama loses in 2012, we may find this headline: "Unfortunate Reading of Goodwin Seen By Observers as Cause of Obama's Downfall. Obama Agrees, Claims, 'I Should Have Read Cod: The Fish That Changed The World Instead'"

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal