Our Martian President
Jay B Gaskill
Attorney at Law
Q: How will remember this president?
A: By Mr. Obama’s ever-fluctuating images…
Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, born in Kansas, first met Barack Obama Senior in 1960, where he was a Kenyan student taking a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii. They married on Maui in 1961, but separated around the time of young Obama’s birth. This was also the occasion when Obama Senior left Hawaii to attend Harvard, and Ann temporarily moved to Washington State. In 1963, she returned to Hawaii where she met an Indonesian graduate student, Lolo Soetoro. In 1965, Dunham and Soetoro were married. The next year, Lolo returned to Indonesia, and his new wife and young Barry followed in 1967. Barack, Barry Obama was then adopted by Mr. Soetoro.
For most of young Obama’s life as a child and teenager, he was known as Barry Soetoro. By the time Dunham and Soetoro were divorced in 1980, young “Barry” had been living with his grandparents and/or mother, moving back to Hawaii where he attended Punahou School in Honolulu, as Barry Obama. By 1979, he had started studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, having registered either as Barry Obama (or Barry Soetoro on a foreign student scholarship as some reports suggest). He later transferred to Columbia University in New York. After Graduating from Harvard Law School, Barack became a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School on the topics of dues process/discrimination, equal treatment, racism and election law. These were not core law school courses and he was never on a tenure track as an academic.
Much has been written about Mr. Obama’s life and formative experiences, most of it influenced by his autobiography revealing his early “slacker” period and drug abuse. What will stand out to later historians, I believe, is the singular absence of gripping personal trials and struggles, the kinds of events that shape character. Instead we are left with a narrative that centers around how this young man went about finding himself.
The curious thing is that, deep into his presidency, Barack Obama is still trying to find himself.
Early on in Mr. Obama’s self-promotion campaign, I tended to think of him as the quintessential political chameleon, the Chameleon Politicus.
But the chameleon metaphor failed to capture the fluctuating Obama phenomenon because the color-changing lizard retains its essential form as its body alters skin color to blend in.
On further reflection, I concluded that the fluctuating Obama persona is something fundamentally different: the constant attempt to change one’s essential nature in order to stand out, to advance one’s agenda of personal celebrity by becoming the person that is expected and hoped for by others.
I believe that this is how Obama was able to temporarily convince a number of moderate liberals and conservatives – who were vehemently through with Bush II – that candidate Obama was one of them, the long hoped-for post-partisan, post-racial president, the Great Uniter.
In his quest for self-definition through image-projection, Mr. Obama tried on that persona, but he found the actual decisions and actions that such a course entailed were too difficult, and would impair his larger quest for adulation.
It seems that Mr. Obama’s self-styled evolutions on “issues” are reinventions, a series of attempts to cast new spells, to become the new persona that everyone will love.
Until recently, hopeful leftists were still caught up in the spell, captivated by the vision that, at core, Obama was one of them, that he is just now showing his true colors. But then the NAS surveillance scandal and the deadly drones program shattered that spell, too.
My assessment is that Mr. Obama has been far too infatuated with adulation to develop character. At core he is a creature of the “new left” of the 1970’s, but only as an inherited inclination, not as a matter of core moral conviction.
History will reveal that our president hesitated for two months on the Bin Laden operation under the influence of leftist advisor Valerie Jarrett (a Chicago leftwing activist who, among other things, is soft on the Muslim Brotherhood and hard on Israel). Finally, under political pressure (i.e., “How will it look if you let Bin Laden slip away?) conveyed by cabinet Secretaries Clinton, and Panetta, Obama pulled the trigger. That decision appears from all the evidence I have seen, to have been driven by an adulation-calculation. It was a profile in timidity and procrastination, not of courage. For a moment, Mr. Obama wanted to bask in the persona of a tough guy.
But who is he, really?
The problem with this sort of thing is that, to paraphrase Lincoln, you can “become someone” for some of the people some of the time, but you can’t keep it up for all of the people all of the time.
The quintessentially American literary giant, the late Ray Bradbury, addressed this problem in a compelling short story, part of his brilliant and poetic work, The Martian Chronicles.
In Bradbury’s timeless book, earth colonists – men, women and children – lived in tiny communities that evoked small-town 1950’s LA. They settled on the great red deserts of Mars near the ruins of the mysterious, extinct Martians.
In the story, “The Martian”, one lonely surviving Martian wanders among the colonists, having the ability to appear as a loved one that someone has lost. In the story, the lone Martian attaches to a bereft couple by morphing into their missing child and showing up on the doorstep. The Martian-as-hoped-for child is taken in and loved, no questions asked. Eventually the Martian wanders away, only to attach to someone else.
At the end of the story, we learn that the lonely Martian has wandered into and out of the lives of many other people, driven by his own loneliness and exile. The Martian can’t help trying to be that special someone for everyone.
At the end, the Martian finds itself surrounded by a crowd of people, each of whom has lost someone; each is calling out a different name. In agony, the creature tries to morph into these conflicting expectations, first a lost boy, then a lost girl, then a missing spouse. Of course it can’t be done. You can’t “be” the person every other person is looking for.
Leading from behind is really another way of describing following. The Martian’s fatal flaw was that it wanted to follow the expectations of others, by becoming the person someone was longing for. It could not be true to itself without sacrificing adulation.
It was a poignant, elegiac, even tragic story.
In Mr. Obama, early version, Americans were looking for a new, post-partisan, post-racial leader, the embodiment of hope and change. As the policy failures and scandals multiply, they/we are left with a different picture: The frame we see reveals little coherent character, a man of several faces, who seeks adulation, if not here, then perhaps elsewhere, …say, in Africa.
The man the crowd wanted to see in Mr. Obama was a blur of faces, fading in and out of view, in a shifting montage that eerily reminds me of Bradbury’s lost Martian.
I fear we are witnessing the collapse of trust, the specter of fading gravitas and a gnawing undercurrent, the foreboding of serious failure. But, so far, this president has been lucky. But for the timing of the 2008 credit and banking crash, he probably would not have been elected. But for Bill Clinton’s clever supporting speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, and the complete crash of the “state of the art” get-out-the-vote computer technology that Mr. Romney relied on to his detriment in swing states, Mr. Obama would probably not have been reelected.
So, I am reminded of the story of a heated discussion in Lincoln’s cabinet over whether to move a certain untried general into the fray during the Civil War. In frustration, Lincoln said, “Grant, I don’t give a God damn what you think about his experience, just tell me one thing: Is he lucky?”
I fear that’s where most Americans are with this president. There seems to be little prospect of personal growth, of the sudden emergence of sturdy character. We are left hoping that Mr. Obama (and by extension, this beloved country) will be lucky.
Surely, Americans are entitled to much more than that in a leader, especially in a time of grave economic and geopolitical crises, very serious troubles that were only partly inherited, and as of now, are mostly self-inflicted.
The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, reminded us that character is destiny. I believe that this will prove true of the Obama presidency.
Leadership springs from character…and its absence from the absence of character.
There is no easy fix. Character is acquired, refined and hardened by the decisions, actions, and inner compass that reveal it.
Character is not magically conjured by ambition, nor is it installed like a computer program, nor is it imaged by a CAG effect. Character is forged by real trials, not by gestures.
We are witnessing a growing consensus that, for this administration’s remaining days, hope is been replaced by disillusionment.
Character is the gold standard of trust. Character is missing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Trust, ever fragile, is in eclipse.
All America has left is luck.
God save the United States of America
Copyright © 2012, 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law
First Published on The Policy Think Site and linked blogs.
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