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Jewish World Review
Oct. 31, 2008
/ 2 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
Marching toward a dark river
Since the Obama phenomenon has no precedent in American politics, we must look to folk tales to understand it.
How could a man with no record, no experience, no known convictions and no known core beliefs so mesmerize the millions to turn themselves, their children and their country over to a man armed only with neatly pressed pants, a good shoeshine and a seductive voice? We don't even get the salesman's smile.
The Pied Piper of Hyde Park is clearly the direct descendant of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Both share the gift of what a fully credentialed psychology professor calls "a unique ability to identify with children." The early piper lured the children of Hamelin to their deaths in the river when the burghers refused to pay him for ridding their village of rats. Robert Browning tells the story:
Rats! They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles.
And ate the cheeses out of vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.
The piper from Hyde Park has tougher work, not with rats with sharp teeth but with evil Republicans deserving of a death more painful than drowning. Humorless, self-righteous and immensely proud of himself, he employs his gift of "a unique ability to identify with children" to lure the grown-up children. His success as a spinner of "fairy tales," as Bill Clinton called them in a fit of unexpected candor, is a tale of credulity run amok. Americans who look like grownups swoon like pimpled teenagers at the mention of his name, and brook no criticism however mild or reasoned the reservations. Polite questions are verboten, as Joe the Plumber learned. Scholars will write about this weird delirium in decades to come; the prudent are saving string for their Ph.D. theses. For now it's prudent to hunker down and observe the disciplined march to the river.
Many who imagine themselves smart, educated and intellectual are reduced to schoolyard gibberish in denouncing John McCain and Sarah Palin - first and foremost Sarah Palin - and vowing obeisance to the Chicago messiah. The fanatics are particularly unhinged by inquiries into Mr. Obama's Chicago past, and what his associations on the South Side and in the intellectual warrens of Hyde Park say about who he really is, the beliefs he holds dearest (if any) and how his "palling around" with shady characters has eroded respect for his judgment. One typical correspondent, a distinguished professor at one of our most expensive universities, writes to scold me for mentioning Mr. Obama's association with William Ayers, the unrepentant '60s terrorist on whom the senator showered foundation money and now blandly describes as "just a guy from the neighborhood."
The professor (of English) writes with a girlish abundance of CAPS and !! and sometimes even !!! to ask what I think it means even if "the two HAD been friends," and "what precisely, is THE GREAT FEAR? ... [you] just don't understand that to live on the South Side of Chicago is to serve on boards with people like Ayers. It's part of the culture ... when Republicans announce darkly that, hey, it might become like Canada I feel, well, would that be so bad? Having just been to Montreal and dining out on their wonderful food and going to their lovely shops, I refuse to be scared." (Who could make up stuff as good as this?)
Sarah Palin is "beneath contempt ," she writes, "and since McCain really could die soon, can you really stomach the prospect of a president who HATES the educated, is proud of knowing nothing, and whose own children (and future son in law) are high school drop-outs ... as for the Palin son-in-law I doubt he'll ever marry Bristol. He has dropped out of school to become an apprentice electrician. Great role model. OK, must go, but it's so fun to chat with you!"
So much for the working man, and besides, the piper calls.
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