Yesterday, wondering what I was thinking during the dog days of Summer last year, I found a post I had written on August 25, 2009: “Re: Contention of the Summer – Obamaism vs. Americanism.” The title referred to an essay by Fouad Ajami – the same essay that I happened to refer to a few days ago – on the dawning sense that Rush Limbaugh’s famous curse, uttered within two days of Obama’s Inaugural – “I hope he fails” – was being fulfilled, and well ahead of most people’s schedules.
At the time, even more than now, I considered it one of the purposes of this blog to keep track of our former commenting-home (more accurately, the former commenting-home of numerous former commenters and authors at this blog). This follow-up to earlier discussion had taken Jennifer Rubin’s reaction to Ajami as corroboration and amplification. Here’s the passage I found interesting enough to quote in full:
Forget effective—is Obama even likable any more? When he’s not condescending to us on race or chastising activists or making up tales of tonsil-stealing docs, he’s apologizing for America and hanging out with cultural elites who harbor a similarly dim view of their fellow citizens. Maybe the real question is: does he like us? Certainly not the segment of us that shows up at town-hall meetings or that likes America pretty much the way it is. Certainly not that segment of Americans that defended the rest of us during the darkest days after 9/11.
No wonder Obama seems so grumpy lately—we just aren’t living up to his expectations.
A year ago, I mused about how certain Contentions commenters, back when there were Contentions commenters, would have been railing at Rubin and crying “hack, hack!” Now I read the same words, and I find myself on the side of the phantom trolls. In the above excerpt Rubin strikes me as the same blogger who comes across to me today as rather unreadably shrill and hyperbolic, good for two or three political tantrums a day, and always ready to imply that there’s something downright anti-American, in the worst sense, about Barack Obama: Notice how easily she puts him on the wrong side of 9/11 – without even a speech to Muslims in the middle of a mosque controversy to pump her up.
Then as now, she was doing the same vox populi-vox dei-dat’s-me bit – railing at the President on behalf of “the segment of us that shows up at town-hall meetings or that likes America pretty much the way it is.” In part of the Rubin post that I didn’t quote last year, she accuses Obama of exhibiting an “abject intolerance for dissent that is hypocritical in the extreme and unnerving to a free society.” In other words, then as now, Rubin liked America “pretty much the way it is” except for those “cultural elites,” those enemies within who demonstrate an abjectly intolerable lack of tolerance, those extreme hypocrites! And what made these exclusionists even more deserving of exclusion, for Rubin, was that they – Obama most of all – amazingly, confoundingly, grumpily, didn’t seem to like… people like Jennifer Rubin.
Why ever not? Why wouldn’t he have felt affection for such kind and generous souls?
I think I knew then, or must have known, that Rubin’s language was exaggerated, even crude, but why didn’t it bother me more? I didn’t even make a note of it. I in effect applauded it. Jennifer Rubin was one of my favorite bloggers! What the Hell was wrong with me? Was I such a partisan ideologue that I was willing to support almost any insult aimed at Obama that didn’t obviously step over “the line”? Or was it just that I was lonely, and wanted certain Obama-haters to accept me as their imaginary internet friend?
Rubin aside, my big thought at the time was to agree only in part with Ajami’s idea that turning away from Obamaism meant that we were ready for a more typically American politics of “trust[-ing] the society rather than the state.” Here’s what I wrote:
Our structurally conservative system, our diverse and resistant political culture, and our whole history from colonial settlements to global neo-empire, virtually require a response to our problems that’s non-Obamaist in this sense – the kind of “American solution to American problems” that the President frequently references, but seems not to understand in the slightest, perhaps in part because it can afford only a subordinate role for any One in particular.
I’m not proud of that snide wrap-up. I was going along with the crowd again: In conservative circles we were almost all speaking of Obama as some kind of monster, but the discourse comes across as itself grotesque. I read it now and see us as having been at least as stupefied by our Obamaphobia as our adversaries had earlier been by Obamalatry.
I’m not sure that my big thought was any better than my “One” joke, but at least it had the form of a thought. I was a lot readier at the time merely to assume that an adequate “response to our problems” would be available, if only we had the wit to get out of our own way, but that’s a vague and simplistic notion – at best a mere statement of faith. Obviously, talking about what really could work in America in our time is more difficult than venting spleen or indulging in paranoia.
I’m left wondering what sign we’ve given that we could handle such a discussion well enough to accept, unite around, and implement its conclusions. What evidence is there that anyone other than the imperious sociopath we dreamt up and called the One could get anywhere with people like we’ve shown ourselves to be? Deformed in word and thought, hostile and unforgiving, obsessed with our petty resentments, divisive to our broken core… What if Ajami’s “trust [in] society rather than the state” represents a parochial and decisively incomplete view of American history, a dubious and highly criticizeable dichotomy? What if an exaggerated trust in this nebulous “society” – governed by emotional reflexes, a thousand points of traditional prejudice, and most of all by money, but otherwise insistently ungovernable – has often been as practically and morally destructive as beneficial for us, as often collectively self-disfiguring as collectively self-ennobling?
I wish I could believe that Rubin, and Limbaugh, and the rest of us weren’t and aren’t really typical of the forces we thought we represented, whose rise we applauded, and which appear on the verge of a triumph sufficient at least (this may be the optimistic view) to bring this country to a political standstill.