January 25, 2009

Not My Jesus Christ


So everyone’s all euphoric and giggly and what-not over the fact that Barack Obama was sworn into office last week. He’s young, energetic, charismatic and handsome. He’s black, which of course makes this an historic moment. He talks real good, too, and uses terms like “hope” and “change” a lot. He’s being compared to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

            But it goes beyond that. People interviewed at the inauguration were describing him in undisguised religious terms. He’s a “savior,” they said. He’s “a resurrection.” I haven’t heard anyone described that way since Elvis.

            And it’s easy to understand why people are excited, especially after the last several years. The fact that he’s charismatic, intelligent and eloquent alone sets him apart from our last eight presidents.

            But I’m sorry, I’m just not as excited or optimistic as perhaps I’m expected to be. I simply haven’t heard anything come out of his mouth that I haven’t also heard come out of the mouth of any other generic candidate for president, or city council, or school board. He just says it better, is all.

            I’m neither Republican nor Democrat, I have no political agenda. I just try to be as realistic as possible when it comes to very unreal topics like politics. And in realistic terms, hope or no hope, chances are good that nothing at all is going to change over the next four years. And if it does, it’s going to be a change for the worse. That’s how it always happens. And all these giddy believers the world over, I’m afraid, are just setting themselves up for a big disappointment.

            Let’s consider a few things.

            During the election (and afterward) people were referring to Obama as “the candidate of change,” as if this was something new, as if no candidate in history had ever promised “change” before. I realize there’s the national attention span to consider, but if you look back over the past, oh, hundred years or so, you’d be hard pressed to find a political candidate from any party running for any office (except for the incumbent) who hasn’t promised a vague, ill-defined “change.” And I guess that yes, any non-incumbent running for office would represent a change, if only by definition. The only thing that usually changes, though, is the face on the TV screen and the name after the title. Everything else plods and grinds along as usual, just as corrupt, just as conniving as ever.

            Of course a president’s role is not to change anything—his (or her) role is to be the nation’s figurehead, a symbol, an advertising spokesperson who can create and present a certain image and attitude, even if nothing at all happens during his term. That’s fine. I accept that and can understand why figureheads are important and powerful.

            Unfortunately, people keep talking about Obama as if he was something more than an advertising spokesperson. I don’t want to be the one to piss all over everyone’s parade here, but he’s not. He just isn’t, and the sooner we can all come to accept that sad and discouraging fact, the easier these next four years will be, if we’re lucky. Unfortunately, we may not be lucky.

            I’ve probably made this point before, but the only real, solid difference I can discern between Republicans and Democrats these days is that Democrats tend to come up with prettier names for insidious projects (case in point, the Deadbeat Dads Law as opposed to Total Information Access). And given that Obama is entering office under this messianic guise, it’ll just make things all that much easier for him.

            You simply can’t give someone a taste of real power and not expect it to corrupt him to a greater or lesser degree. I’m not saying Obama is corrupt or evil—I’m just saying give him a little time. It happened to Nixon and Bush, it happened to Kennedy and King, it happened to the Clintons, it happened to Elvis, and it already seems to be happening to our new president.

            During the campaign, there were small (and quickly buried) stories about journalists complaining that access to this supposedly open and transparent man of the people was as tightly controlled as anything they’d seen in recent years. There were also those rumors (I’ve heard both sides to this story) that reporters from news outlets critical to Obama suddenly found themselves booted from the campaign bus. I saw a clearly staged event during a 60 Minutes piece in which Obama interrupted the interview to wade into the gathered throng to hug a woman whose son had died in Iraq. Then he resumed the interview. He was clearly being portrayed (and none too subtly) as Jesus, not only by his handlers, but by the teary-eyed reporter who was more than willing to play along.

            At the same time however, you listen to what he says and look at his voting record when it comes to something like personal privacy (a pet peeve of mine) and it’s hard to tell him apart from anyone in the previous administration (and that’s saying something).

            He voted to deny citizens the right to sue telecommunications companies that had happily handed over personal information to domestic intelligence agencies, and he voted to expand the FBI’s right to tap the phones of folks like you and me whenever they felt like it.

            In fact everything that came out of his mouth in regards to personal privacy or Homeland Security issues was troublesome—especially as the election drew closer. Terrorism was a huge and terrifying threat, he insisted, and the War on Terror was a real war that could be won. Thing is, he said it real pretty-like, so nobody called him on it.

            It’s a less than comforting precedent. Watch out for any proposals with names like “The Fluffy Bunny Act” or the “Saving Homeless Kittens Law.” The latter will probably involve rounding up everyone who doesn’t consider him a messiah.

            Now, I’m not one of those Internet goofballs claiming that Obama is the Antichrist. That’s as stupid as considering him the Second Coming of Christ. Besides, we’ve had too many other Antichrists in office already—it’s growing a little tired. No, I’m simply maintaining the same healthy, undiluted skepticism I reserve for anyone who expresses the desire to hold public office.

            The danger is that given the overwhelming mood of the country at this particular moment in time, holding tight to an undiluted skepticism about our new Messiah in Chief immediately makes me an enemy of the State.

            My only hope is that I’ll be able to avoid treason charges (under the provisions of the Homeless Kitten Law) long enough to see the stunned expression on the faces of all those poor true believers when their Savior’s mask comes off. You know it’s gonna happen, and no matter what the circumstances, you know it’s gonna be funny as hell.


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