Barack, Iraq and Hil­lary

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Did you see that poll about Iraq sug­gest­ing that . . . What’s that? Barack Obama? Oh, sorry. Ac­cord­ing to the new rules from the Amer­i­can Me­dia Prac­ti­tion­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, we’re obliged to make at least one flat­ter­ing ref­er­ence to Barack Obama per col­umn, prefer­ably ac­com­pa­nied by that pic­ture USA To­day used with his head framed by a kind of lu­mi­nous halo thing. So OK, all to­gether now:

Barack Obama,/ What a won­der­ful phrase./ Barack Obama/ Ain’t no passin’ craze./ It means no wor­ries/ For the rest of your days.

Barack Obama an­nounced two weeks ago he was form­ing an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee to ex­plore whether he can re­ally be as fab­u­lous as the me­dia say. And hap­pily the an­swer is: He is young, gifted and black, and white and Hawai­ian and Kansan, and charis­matic and Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ist, and Mus­lim. He re­jects the way “pol­i­tics has be­come so bit­ter and par­ti­san,” he rep­re­sents “a dif­fer­ent kind of pol­i­tics.” He smokes, which is dif­fer­ent.

He was raised in an In­done­sian madras­sah by rad­i­cal imams, which is more than John Ed­wards can say. And he looks to­tally cool when he smokes. I haven’t smoked since I was 14, but I’m think­ing of tak­ing it up again just be­cause the so­phis­ti­cated re­fresh­ing nico­tine taste helps take the par­ti­san bit­ter­ness out of the at­mos­phere. Barack Obama is Lauren Ba­call to Amer­ica’s Humphrey Bog­art. Lauren Barack coolly blows smoke, leans against the wall and purrs: You don’t have to say any­thing and you don’t have to do any­thing. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whis­tle. You know how to whis­tle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips to­gether and blow.”


Some com­men­ta­tors say he’s a blank slate. And how long is it since we’ve seen one of those? They used to have ‘em in the school­houses back when the kids still learned stuff in­stead of just dis­cussing their sex­u­al­ity with the guid­ance coun­selor all week long. I’ll bet in those rad­i­cal madras­sahs they’re still us­ing blank slates.

The madras­sah stuff was sup­pos­edly leaked to In­sight Mag­a­zine by some oppo-re­search heav­ies on Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s team. If true, that sug­gests Hil­lary is los­ing her touch. It’s cer­tainly the case that a for­eign ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t al­ways as­sist in elec­toral pol­i­tics: John Kerry didn’t play up the Swiss fin­ish­ing school an­gle. But look at it from a Demo­cratic pri­mary voter’s point of view, the kind who drive around with those “CO-EX­IST” bumper stick­ers made up of the cross and the Star of David and the Is­lamic cres­cent and the peace sign. Your whole world­view is based on the be­lief that deep down we would all rub along just fine and this neo­con fever about Is­lam is just a lot of ba­nana oil to keep the Amer­i­can peo­ple in a state of fear and para­noia. What would more re­sound­ingly con­firm that view than if the nicest, most non­bit­ter, non­par­ti­san guy in pol­i­tics turns out to have grad­u­ated from the Sword of the In­fi­del Slayer grade school in Jakarta?

To be sure, the imams al­ways knew young Barack was not your typ­i­cal novi­tiate. No doubt when he was late for Fri­day prayers they stood around singing “How Do You Solve A Prob­lem Like Obama?” How do you hold a moon­beam in your hand? Who knows? But, if your en­tire cam­paign is based on the fact your slen­der re­sume rep­re­sents na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, why be so mod­est? Why not up­grade it to rep­re­sent full-blown global rec­on­cil­i­a­tion?

That poll about Iraq I men­tioned right at the be­gin­ning was very in­ter­est­ing. It came out two weeks ago and it posed var­i­ous ques­tions about whether folks thought the “surge” was a good idea or not, in­clud­ing: “Do you per­son­ally want the Iraq plan Pres­i­dent Bush an­nounced last week to suc­ceed?”

And here’s how the Amer­i­can peo­ple an­swered: 63 per­cent said yes, 22 per­cent said no, 15 per­cent said they didn’t know.

Let me see if I un­der­stand that. For four years, re­gard­less of this or that po­si­tion on the mer­its of the war, al­most ev­ery­body has claimed to “sup­port our troops.” Some of us have al­ways thought “sup­port­ing the troops” while not sup­port­ing them in their mis­sion is not en­tirely cred­i­ble. But here we have 37 per­cent of the Amer­i­can peo­ple ac­tu­ally urg­ing de­feat on them. They “sup­port our troops” by want­ing them to lose. This isn’t a ques­tion about whether you think the plan will work, but whether you it to work. And nearly 40 per­cent of re­spon­dents ei­ther don’t know or are ac­tively root­ing for fail­ure. Which is to say: more dead Amer­i­can troops and more dead Iraqi civil­ians. Asked whether they want the surge to suc­ceed, 34 per­cent of Democrats an­swered “No” and so did 19 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents and 11 per­cent of Repub­li­cans. What were the num­bers like for D-Day?

The prob­lem isn’t that our pol­i­tics is “bit­ter” and “par­ti­san” so much as that it’s post­mod­ern. In Congress, Democrats have de­cided to chip away at the war with var­i­ous sym­bolic pos­tures but not op­pose it out­right: that way, if things go well, they can mus­cle it on the credit. But if things go badly, they’ll be able to say they told you so with­out get­ting stuck with the blame.

Over on the other side, the


usual Repub­li­can squishes (Olympia Snowe et al.) have de­cided “the facts on the ground” have mys­te­ri­ously changed and their po­si­tion on the war is now “evolv­ing.” By “the facts on the ground,” they mean the ground around the polling booths back home rather than any ground in Bagh­dad or the Sunni Tri­an­gle.

Some­where far away there is a real coun­try called Iraq where real peo­ple live and die. But Iraq in do­mes­tic terms is now mostly a po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion and, when it comes to cal­i­brat­ing the pre­cise de­gree of De­feat Lite that works best for one, most Democrats and more and more Repub­li­cans are push­ing the rest of the planet to the far­thest fringes of the map.

Whether the rest of the planet will be con­tent with a non­speak­ing part re­mains to be seen. But in­creas­ing num­bers of the Amer­i­can peo­ple re­ject the post-Septem­ber 11, 2001, par­a­digm, and there will be a lot of votes for the qui­etlife op­tion in 2008.

A doc­tri­naire lib­eral dis­ci­plined enough to pass him­self off as a blank slate with sappy soft-fo­cus mul­ti­c­ulti bonafides would seem to of­fer the most sym­bol­i­cally ap­peal­ing re­pu­di­a­tion of the war years. And all we have to do is whis­tle: We don’t have to say any­thing and we don’t have to do any­thing, which suits us just fine.

And, if Hil­lary thinks ev­ery­one will pur­sue sto­ries about some long-ago madras­sah, she has a sweetly touch­ing faith in the Amer­i­can me­dia.

Mark Steyn is the se­nior con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor for Hollinger Inc. Publi­ca­tions, se­nior North Amer­i­can colum­nist for Bri­tain’s Tele­graph Group, North Amer­i­can ed­i­tor for the Spec­ta­tor, and a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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