Jan 24, 2012

The magic mirror of Barack Obama

Spell-binding oratory is always pleasant to hear. Composed of  thin air and monstrously questionable assumptions, it still creates a brief mountain top experience, visions of an  entire world -- all seven billion of us -- composed of knights and their ladies, never in want, living in noble comradeship, destined by some political magic to live happily ever after as a matter of natural law

Which is to say I suspended disbelief and simply enjoyed the theater, much as I enjoyed a Travis McGee novel, until about the time he turned away from his teleprompter and shook Joe Biden's hand.

Then, the ancient concept of "ethos" crossed my mind, probably the residue of a dull graduate seminar on Greek rhetoric. It deals with the credibility of the orator by inquiring, "What has this man done in his personal life to give power to the pretty words he speaks?"


The President began as he ended. He praised our warriors at the open, and at his coda. Citing their unit coherence as a model for every citizen, invoking their heroism and associating himself with it -- President Obama as the spiritual brother of the men and women who brought down Osama Bin Laden. Some viewers may have been able to make the leap to the vision he sought to evoke, this president in battle dress, heroically charging up those stairs in the dark, weapon at the ready, anxious to confront Bin Laden, man to man.

Some of us, more attuned to this man's personal history, couldn't. We recall that the modern battles of the Middle East began in and continued through his young manhood. It was a time when Barack Obama had absolutely equal opportunity to demonstrate his devotion to country by putting on a uniform. Nothing barred him from displaying the personal valor he now claims to cherish but must borrow.

While other young citizens volunteered he found it more congenial to ally himself with a political machine and await political anointment, whiling away his meanwhile by organizing the streets of Chicago.

If you care to mark those portions of the president's State of the Union speech as dishonorable hypocrisy,  I will not dispute your view.

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