Noonan Sees It: Obama Past Caring. Happy Independence Day!

Peggy Noonan has written an excellent, some might say worrisome piece re Barack Obama’s historically rather perverse presidency. You’ll want to read it.

I have for a while, now, wondered if the president’s disengaged “check-out”, and the “so, sue me” smugness — the absolute lack of concern for anything, including his own legacy or the “future of the party” — has less to do with a conceit that he possesses the ethereal, above-merely-human-detachment of a godling, and more to do with an observation that America may feel dissatisfied but (thanks to dependable assists from the press, distractions from pop-culture and new media enterprises in love with experimentation and control) she has neither the attention span nor the will, nor the energy, to come back from a “new normal” of overarching, and overreaching government control. The president doesn’t have to care about legacy because legacy, like history, doesn’t actually matter, anymore. Narratives are only relevant for as long as they are useful and one doesn’t even need a Winston Smith to shift their direction; often a dizzying spin is all it takes.

Back when Benghazi happened, I suggested that if the administration could successfully divert attention from that event — and it did — it would mean the end of accountability; the end of having to answer for governmental actions (or inaction); the end of needing to explain anything, even to Congress; the end of needing to care about what the public thought, or wanted, or perhaps even (given media willingness to ignore any story that might prove troublesome) how they voted.

Obama has “checked out” because his job is done, and nothing that crosses his desk matters to him any longer. His job was not to lead, not to repair relationships damaged by American hegemony or Dubya, not to re-unite the nation. His job was to entrench members in-good-standing of “the party” (not the Democrats, by the way; he’s done nothing for them) while rendering politics, and political offices themselves, irrelevant of meaning.

So meaningless, in fact, that for the Democrats it doesn’t really matter who ends up being their nominee in 2016. If Hillary wants to be president, fine; if the even-less-artfully evasive Elizabeth Warren wants it, all the better because her narrative is still forming and maleable. All that matters is that the top of the ticket be a woman, because that is the easiest way to ignite the masses — again, for or against is irrelevant — and convince them that they’re still involved in an important process. Whether the “First Female President” is a waspy, befuddled Clinton or a waspy, befuddled Warren will matter very little, because the Office of the President has been successfully transformed both in power and perception; it is no longer a place of vision or risk-taking enterprise or reassurance; it is simply a set for theatricals.

Obama has demonstrated to Americans that they can muddle through with a paralyzed and therefore impotent government — that the bureaucratic mechanisms are so fully in place at this point that governance is no longer about propositions (nor does it need to be) but about maintenance. American is more than coping with the “new normal”. Give them two more years of adjustment-time and Revolution will be a cakewalk.

Hillary, in 2008, could not be counted upon to bring this about, by the way, which is why she was abandoned, back then; she was still too middle-class, too willing to work within existing frameworks; still naively thinking it would be enough to lead, when the time to actually rule was at hand.

I’m not sure why I am pondering all of this, because I really have lost all interest in the illusions of politics. I guess I feel like Noonan touched on it, though, or even hinted at all of this, when she wrote, “He thinks he’s done his work, set America on a leftward course…”.

Yes, exactly, but I think Obama (or whoever guides him, because he doesn’t seem to terribly interested in this stuff) has also taken the measure of the press, and new media, and the American people, themselves, and has realized that we are more than set on a course; we are all-but conquered.

Happy Independence Day? Well, don’t despair; to despair is to sin against hope. But what shall we hope for? That somehow a golden past may be recaptured? That is an unrealistic hope; even if the past is prologue, the thrust of narrative is always, relentlessly, forward. The forces in power have begun as they mean to continue, and even if genies could be put back into bottles we are too divided, too distracted and too self-interested to chase and subdue them.

A more realistic hope: that our focus may move beyond the fakery of politics and headlines and pundit gas-baggery; that we may stop attributing to America the inviolable traits and virtues that cannot belong to a nation (for a nation is only an idea) but only to a people, and then only imperfectly, and we have surely been imperfect. If a cult of personality helped to bring us to this point, it could only occur in a nation that had become comfortable with ideas evolving into idols.

The good news is, since politics has become pointless, we will now get to talk about human conscience, and philosophy and the stuff of the soul, and to fight for what is True — the Reality beyond all of these overwhelming illusions — and to therefore begin to bring on Apocalypse; not an end, but an uncovering; a revelation. And then the winning begins.

The things of the spirit foment and grow a most subversive freedom. So, Happy Independence Day, indeed.

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About Elizabeth Scalia