The Mes­siah finds his time warp

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

Barack Obama doesn’t move Amer­i­cans as he once did. The elo­quence once thought cast in gold has been re­vealed as sound­ing brass and tin­kling cym­bal. But he found com­fort in a warm, wet time warp in Lon­don. You couldn’t blame him if he had sent Michelle on to Paris alone, with just her Se­cret Ser­vice body­guards.

The re­cep­tion in West­min­ster Hall re­called the sudsy rhetoric of happier times. He ap­plied pay­back for his daddy’s mis­treat­ment at the hands of colo­nial mas­ters in Kenya and for his mother’s pi­ous angst in Kansas. He won his great­est ap­plause from the Par­lia­ment when he ob­served that “it’s pos­si­ble for the sons and daugh­ters of for­mer colonies to sit as mem­bers of Par­lia­ment and for the grand­son of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the Bri­tish army to stand be­fore you as the pres­i­dent of the United States.”

Mr. Obama might have thought he was rub­bing a lit­tle salt into the wounds of English­men, but the right hon­or­able mem­bers of Par­lia­ment loved it, tak­ing it as an un­ex­pected salute to the mem­ory of the em­pire on which the sun never set (un­til it did). What­ever, it was ap­pre­ci­ated as a mo­ment when un­ex­pected per­sonal con­nec­tion — a flash of warmth from the cap­tain of cool — mo­men­tar­ily in­ter­rupted a pa­rade of plat­i­tudes. Even the pres­i­dent’s en­dorse­ment of “the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship,” which a year ago he pro­fessed to not have heard much about, did not im­press some morn­ing-af­ter re­view­ers.

“The pres­i­den­tial text,” the Lon­don Daily Tele­graph ob­served, “sounded as if it had been worked on so hard and con­sci­en­tiously by a vast team of helpers that it had lost all sa­vor, and had been re­duced to a se­ries of oro­tund ba­nal­i­ties of the sort which can be heard at ev­ery te­dious An­glo-Amer­i­can con­fer­ence: ‘Pro­found chal­lenges stretch out be­fore us [. . . ] the time of our lead­er­ship is now [. . . ]. Our al­liance must re­main in­dis­pens­able.’ ”

The pres­i­dent’s bro­mides, meant to warm the oc­ca­sion, could teach him to be wary of his­tor­i­cal al­lu­sions when he at­tempts to match his Har­vard ed­u­ca­tion against learn­ing from Ox­ford, Cam­bridge and the Univer­sity of East Anglia. Ev­ery­thing be­tween Bri­tain and the United States has been “smooth sail­ing,” the pres­i­dent said, “ever since 1812,” when the red­coats took a burn­ing brand to Dol­ley Madi­son’s White House. This as­ser­tion in­vited crit­ics to re­call a few oc­ca­sions of rough sail­ing since then, such as the Bri­tish at­tempt to re­tain the Suez Canal in 1956 over the ob­struc­tions of the Eisen­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion — when even the French wanted to help.

The his­tory and lore of Amer­ica and the ex­ploits of Amer­i­can heroes once fa­mil­iar to ev­ery school­boy have never much in­ter­ested Mr. Obama, who re­ceived his early ed­u­ca­tion, where the long­est-last­ing cul­tural im­pres­sions are formed, in a Mus­lim school in In­done­sia. He gives the im­pres­sion of be­ing above it all, an im­pres­sion he care­fully cul­ti­vates. The light touch lies be­yond his learn­ing, but he tried in Lon­don with the hint of a jest he could but wouldn’t tell, some­thing about the queen, the pope and Nel­son Man­dela, who had pre­ceded him at the lectern in West­min­is­ter Hall. The joke, of a kind fa­mil­iar to Amer­i­can barflies, was in the way of, “So these three celebri­ties walk into a bar . . .” But he knew you have to be care­ful, even abroad, mak­ing jokes about the queen, the pope, and a black guy.

On the other hand, the rap­ture that didn’t hap­pen with the end of the world a week ago was alive and well in West­min­ster Hall, where the right hon­or­able mem­bers of Par­lia­ment were trans­ported to un­holy bliss just to get near Mr. Obama, reach­ing to catch fall­ing star­dust to sprin­kle on them­selves. “I was only sur­prised that [the right hon­or­able mem­bers] hadn’t pro­duced the halt and the lame to be cured,” ob­served Si­mon Hog­gart in the very lib­eral Lon­don Guardian. “As he moved up spon­ta­neous ap­plause would break out. He was be­ing clapped just for be­ing there, for sim­ply ex­ist­ing. Ev­ery­one he en­coun­tered had that [star-struck] smile, like a very happy corpse, com­mon to peo­ple meet­ing a su­per­star.”

Such mind­less en­thu­si­asm for a pres­i­dent once thought to be the Mes­siah, who could walk on wa­ter; cure cancer, AIDS and ath­lete’s foot; and raise the dead if he wanted to, is found now mostly in star-struck fac­ulty lounges. Most Amer­i­cans, mugged by re­al­ity on the mean streets of the world out­side the aca­demic co­coon, have out­grown the fan­tasy. One day soon our English cousins will feel fool­ish, too.

Wes­ley Pru­den is edi­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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