IF YOU search on the net for ‘Jon Stewart’, ‘finance reform’ and ‘Obama’, you will find one of the most unintentionally funny sketches the US Comedy Central network has broadcast. Stewart dissects Barack Obama’s hypocrisy with his usual goggle-eyed relish. He shows that the Democrat had been all for the public funding of presidential candidates until he realised that his privately raised campaign donations would allow him to outspend John McCain.
Stewart’s audience makes a far better spectacle than the comedian on the stage, however. They had roared when he mocked Bush, Clinton and McCain, but when he ridiculed Obama, a few tittered nervously and most sunk into a shocked silence. Ordinary political satire had become a kind of blasphemy.
‘You are allowed to laugh at him,’ Stewart said. Hardly anyone wanted to.
Like other US comedians, Stewart wonders if the public is frightened of seeming racist. I do not underestimate the significance of America rising above its original sin of slavery by electing a black President, but anti-racism cannot explain soft questions and kid gloves. Black politicians who have not conformed to liberal expectations have found that anti-racism counts for little and the veneer of politically correct manners can vanish faster than breath off a windowpane.
Gary Trudeau had Bush addressing Condoleezza Rice as ‘brown sugar’ in his Doonesbury strip. Ted Rall decided she was Bush’s ‘house nigga’ and sent her to a ‘racial re-education camp’ to learn the error of her conservative views. Jeff Danziger drew her as Prissy, Scarlett O’Hara’s slave in Gone With the Wind. All three white men had reached for the dirtiest racial insults they could imagine when confronted with a black woman who disagreed with their politics.
German has the useful word Tantenverführer: ‘A young man of excessively good manners you suspect of devious motives [literally, an aunt-seducer].’ The sight of 200,000 turning out to hear Obama in Berlin showed the personable young American had wooed and wowed old Europe. If you watched them, the reverence with which liberal sympathisers and journalists treat him might have seemed no mystery. Ignore the imperatives of anti-racism and remember that to a generation raised on The West Wing Obama is the perfect candidate: hip, handsome, commanding, charismatic.
Jon Stewart tried to take on Obama’s glamour, too, and got his sidekicks to play American political correspondents covering the world tour. They giggled and gawped like love-struck teenagers and cried: ‘He gives me a boner. He should be called Barack O’Boner.’
Crude maybe, but so close to the reality of the US media’s coverage it barely qualified as satire. The Nation, once regarded as a serious, left-wing magazine, declared last week that Obama is the new ‘Frank Sinatra, so cool he’s hot’, a centrifugal force that can make ‘legions of little girls jump out of their panties’. Michelle was as much of a sex symbol, it continued. She gave him ‘hot, married love’, while the Republicans were stuck with the ‘stiff, asexual, erratic McCain and his zombie-fied former drug addict wife’.
But like the colour of his skin, Obama’s good looks cannot fully explain the adulation. Few handsome men and fewer beautiful women claw their way to the top of politics. A panting BBC presenter interrupts the rolling news to tell the nation that Obama’s flight has actually touched down at Heathrow, not because of the senator’s race or charm, but because Obama is riding the crest of the global wave of relief that Bush is leaving. A wave that is about to break. It doesn’t know it, but the liberal-left in Europe and North America has been lucky to have Bush.
By building him up into a great Satan, the oil man who invades countries to seize their reserves and the Christian who orders bloody crusades, they have hidden the totalitarian threats of our age from themselves and anyone who listens to them. Bush allowed them to explain away radical Islam as an understandable, even legitimate, response to the hypocrisies and iniquities of American policy. Even those in the European elites who do not buy the full ‘America has it coming’ package believe that Bush is a cowboy who doesn’t understand that the postmodern way to end conflict is to compromise rather than fight.
In January, Bush will be history, leaving liberals all alone in a frightening world. Little else will change. Radical Islam will still authorise murder without limit, Iran will still want the bomb and the autocracies of China and Russia will still be growing in wealth and confidence. All those who argued that the ‘root cause’ of the Bush administration lay behind the terror will find that the terror still flourishes when the root cause has retired.
In their book, After Bush, professors Timothy J Lynch and Robert S Singh highlight the obvious truth that the West is in a new Cold War. Whatever his disagreements with Bush on detail, the new President will have to stop radical Islamist movements and regimes gaining nuclear, chemical or biological weapons because he will know, as we already know, when we are honest with ourselves, that they will use them. Even if we have a President Obama, the continuities in American foreign policy will be more striking than the contrasts.
Obama made their point for them in his Berlin speech. Repeatedly, he emphasised that the resolve that had won the Cold War had to be applied to the war against terror. ‘Partnership and co-operation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity,’ he declared.
Not all Europeans will want co-operation. A minority will never escape from the slogans and attitudes of the Bush years and Obama and his wife must expect the same treatment as Condoleezza Rice. However, now that the majority of liberals seems likely to get the American President of their dreams, they will have to offer him their support, won’t they?