The BBC broadcast of the Israeli ceasefire on Sunday 18 January was followed by what seemed like a resumption of the year long US$1 billion ( Aus$ 1.5 billion) American presidential campaign, with President-elect Obama on the campaign trail again. He was calling for, believe it or not, a new Declaration of Independence.
Speaking in Baltimore, following Abraham Lincoln’s train journey to Washington, it became clear that until the inauguration, we would be seeing and hearing, over and over, each of his whistle-stop speeches.
The one in Baltimore was delivered, we were told later, from behind three walls of bullet proof glass. But we were not told the answer to what for me is the more interesting question – was he using a teleprompter?
If he were, they did a better job hiding it than Rupert Murdoch's when he gave his recent ABC Boyer Lecture at the Opera House. The users of this machine always seem to look as if they are watching tennis. In Baltimore, the President elect was moving his head from left to right in the same tell –tale way. But the journalists did not explain why.
While the ‘breaking news’ genre seems to require the almost continuous broadcast of Obama speeches, this has at least been relieved by the Chrysler car advertisements which show different car models and ask us if we can have this for such and such a price. They then recite, in rich Obama like terms, the mantra ‘ Yes we can’ to resounding cheers.
In addition to the Lincoln train route, it seems Mr.Obama will be sworn in on the Lincoln Bible and eat lunch off replicas of the Lincolns’ White House china.
“Short of wearing a stove-pipe hat, Obama could not make his desire to be compared to Abraham Lincoln any more obvious,” wrote James Forsyth in The Spectator on 14 January. “Michelle and the girls must have wondered if he was going to change their name when he took them to the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday night.”
In comparison, how humble President George W Bush now seems when he only looked to Ronald Reagan and how humble President Clinton was when he merely looked to John Kennedy for inspiration. The new President is not so restrained.
…an elective King….
Theodore Roosevelt once explained that an American President is “an elective King”. According to Frank Prochaska, he was referring to the classical definition of monarchy, the rule of one.
The considerable British jurist, Lord Hailsham explained that the American system centres on ‘an elective monarchy with a king who rules with a splendid court and even…a royal family, but does not reign.’
He contrasted this with the Westminster system which he said involves ‘a republic with an hereditary life president, who being a queen, reigns but does not rule’.
The point is that no president, with the possible exception of George Washington, can ever fulfil the natural longing of the people for a unifying head of state who is above the political fray while the constitution also makes him or her the powerful and tenured political head of the government, unconstrained even by the cabinet and not responsible to Congress.
There is an unavoidable contradiction in this office. The sense of disillusion will be deep when the American people realise that they have been deceived about this.
For President Obama will at some stage disappoint the American nation and the world. He may well be a good and successful president but he cannot with any substance rise above the political fray. (Fortuitously, a book by Spectator writer James Dellingpole is about to be published by Regnery on this very point: Welcome to Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work’ )
…raising impossible expectations…
Indeed the President was certain to disappoint whenever he raised expectations with promises like the following , given when he received the nomination of the Democrat Party over his future Secretary of State:
‘I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.’
It may well be that Mr. Obama may actually believe this tosh, but the extraordinary thing is that the greater part of the mainstream media, American and foreign, put aside their once healthy cynicism, raised their hands in the air and also said “ I believe.”
The reason for this may be related to the decline of religion, most manifest in the new elites. Man I suspect is programmed to believe. (The remark attributed to Chesterton about atheists is pertinent: when a man becomes an atheist it is not that he believes in nothing. He will believe in anything.)
The mainstream media began to reveal they were no longer reporters but Obama campaigners in the way they presented the subprime crisis. This appears, as far as I can understand it, to have been the direct result of legislation by the Democrats to mandate lending by the banks to people who had little hope of repaying.
The legislation was kept in place by the Democrats, notwithstanding attempts by Senator McCain to amend it. Senator Obama was not interested in correcting this manifest error in public policy. The Democrat Party continued to support massive subprime lending to people who could never pay. Worse, they used this for political purposes – to buy votes.
So the administration was blamed for the actions and inactions of the Democrat controlled legislature. The only conclusion is that the majority of Americans think the government has control over the legislative programme.
Under the American constitution this is not so. Yet the media allowed the American people to believe they lived under some sort of Westminster system.
The mainstream media have now propagated the idea that President Obama will be above politics and that he will lead the world into a golden era.
Are they sinister manipulators or are they just naive? Major General Altenburg, who until 2007 had responsibility for the military commission system, told The Australian’s Paul Maley on 19 January that soon after the inauguration, President Obama will order ‘some type of freeze’ of the Guantanamo prosecutions.
This will be, he said, because the President will ‘find the political payoff for doing that irresistible.’
This will include freezing the prosecution of Hambali, the alleged mastermind of the Bali bombing in which 202 people were murdered, including 88 Australians. Note that if this is to be done the purpose will be overwhelmingly political.
We shall see.
…the coronation of a Bonaparte like saviour…
We noted in this column the rare touch of reality brought to a media by round-up of the election on 8 November 2008.
Christopher Hitchens told the other irritated members of an ABC TV panel in Sydney that as a journalist it was not his role to have the warm and fuzzy feelings which were engulfing the other panellists, former NSW Premier Bob Carr and Robert Manne.
He said the role of the journalists is to ask questions, listen to answers and then to pose tougher questions.
There was an amusing moment. When Bob Carr was parading, as he often does, his knowledge of American history and eulogising the various Supreme Court decisions on race, Hitchens interjected ‘like Dred Scott.’
“Yes, a great decision,” enthused Carr.
Dred Scott v. Sandford was actually a notorious decision of the Supreme Court in 1857 affirming the property rights of slave owners under the American Constitution.
It was handed down 85 years after Lord Mansfield had rules slavery was not recognized under the common law.
It was not only taxation which encouraged the American slaveowners to revolt against Britain.
Hitchens continued to adopt a sceptical position, and was constantly talked over by presenter Tony Jones. The message was clear – we don’t want to hear that heresy, just the warm and fuzzy purring of a media cheer squad.
The US $150 (Aus $2.25 million) inauguration has been built up to be the coronation of a Bonaparte like saviour.
When the media can no longer hide the inherent contradiction in the role, they will no doubt assume the American people have forgotten the media’s responsibility in misleading the people into ever thinking that President Obama would provide leadership beyond politics.
And misleading them into believing that generations from now, they will be able to look back and tell their children his inauguration was the moment when they began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when they ended a war and secured their nation and restored America’s image as the last, best hope on earth.