A Distant Drummer

Copyright © by Len Holman, 12/4/12


  A lot has been going on—and continues to do so.  There have been our Presidential elections, more done strikes, hurricanes and flooding, an Egyptian president who wants to be Pharaoh, the imminent financial disaster which awaits the middle class (another disaster, that is), the tempest in a teapot concerning the veracity and culpability of our U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice, in the matter of the burning of our consulate in Benghazi, with the loss of life of our ambassador there and three others, along with the nation of Syria coming apart like a rotten burlap sack, the renewed Israeli building of settlements, the Eurozone’s teetering on the verge of irrelevance, with some of its citizens having no jobs or food or places to live, and our congress’s inability to agree that horse manure has a strong odor. The ocean levels rise, Africa is finding out it also has its terrorists and rebels, and the Old Guard in the Middle East still ruthlessly clings to power, buoyed by American power and money.  North Korea is threatening to launch yet another missile (I’m sure they hope that THIS time, it actually gets airborne). 

  In all of this, one wishes for the American President to say something, to do more than visit a toy factory and go on a publicity tour or two or five, to exhort us to use Facebook and Twitter to prod our legislators to do the right thing.  He is drumming up support for his fiscal program, but at a distance.  That one word, “distance,” best describes Obama’s methods and temperament. He is the cool professor, standing at the head of a class of attentive students, Socratically weaving his spell, smiling faintly, not breaking a sweat.  He is America’s professor, gently tugging at our sleeves, engaging us as we walk in the Agora, enveloping us in a web of dialog and counterfactuals, when we REALLY want someone to breathe fire, make the earth tremble a bit, to bring down the thunder. He is not engaged, as a politician is this context in which we find ourselves would be. He makes appearances.  He is self-deprecating, but to no discernible purpose, other than to increase his Likeability Index.  He got re-elected, the demons for the Hard Right were vanquished, we are all safe, but we are left with a cardboard cutout propped up in the President’s chair in the Oval Office.  We wanted more. 

  We wanted flesh and blood, but got more of the same: the ghost of Promises Made, a shadow we invested with flesh and blood, hoping our will would make it so, but instead got the same distant, lean-back-in-his-chair-and listen-to-the-wrangling man with tenure and a parking permit for the staff parking lot.  The President had his challenger over for lunch and there is speculation Obama will offer Romney some position in our government.  Probably he won’t, but I wouldn’t put it past him.  He is either the cagiest, cleverly-working-behind-the- scenes man ever to become President, or the laziest, most disingenuous, and naďve man on Capitol Hill.  He seems convinced that his re-election gives him the mandate NOT to engage anyone in the rough and tumble blood sport which is our national political scene.  I’m sure, if he could, he would call in some drones from Colorado and obliterate the Speaker’s house and be done with it.  Wouldn’t even have to roll up his sleeves to do it, either. 

  The Greeks knew about rhetoric, that discipline which allows an arguer to make his or her pitch to fit the audience.  He appears to believe that convincing half the electorate is quite enough, that there is no need to grab a lapel, buttonhole a politician, or hold a news conference with more fire than his usual far-away speaking rhythm.  He is acting like a man who must cross a wire suspended above Niagara Falls, and hopes to have Marine One come over and lift him to the other side, with just a few sprinkles of water on the cuffs of his trousers, which he will casually brush off and call the tightrope walk a success.  Where is he with Susan Rice, who is twisting in the political wind?  Where is he when the Israelis bomb and build?  Where is he when Speaker Boehner calls for “leadership?” 

  It’s true now—as well as in the past—that to get a program passed, to get something done you presumably truly believe in, that one’s face will be scratched, shoes scuffed, shirt ripped, and one’s breathing will be labored with the exertion of effort the program needs.  Instead, he sends surrogates, like Timothy Geithner, out to the news media to “draw a line in the sand on taxes,” as CNN reports on its website.  Here’s a question for the President: why isn’t HE doing the sand-drawing?  Not just in passing, not just once or twice, but leaning into it with all the fury and power the Presidential office holds.  He acts as though he will coast to victory, shut off his engine at the head of the backstretch and float across the finish line in first place, smiling smugly the whole way.  If he really cares about passing his agenda, then let’s hear those drums!


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