The Magazine

A New Circus Comes to Town

They're going to need more than three rings.

Jan 19, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 17 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Is it too soon to talk about the failed Obama presidency just because Obama isn't president yet? That depends upon how quickly Barack Obama is able to apply the lessons he's learned from Management Secrets of the Illinois Governors. So far he's not doing very well. He has allowed America's current number one jackleg, crackpot, smut-mouth, slime-licking politician to give the Obama Senate seat to a lovable old African-American doofus whom no one has the heart to execrate. Roland Burris will be the kind of ornament to this year's Senate that the broken plastic Rudolph with its antlers missing was to last year's Christmas tree.

Then Obama took Bill Richardson--one of his earliest important supporters and among the smartest, most experienced, and, certainly, most affable of Washington insiders--and put Bill at the Department of Commerce. I will read from the roster at the Secretary of Commerce Hall of Fame, its inductees dating back to the Harding administration:

Norman Mineta

Mickey Kantor

Ron Brown

Robert Mosbacher

Howard Malcolm Baldrige Jr.

Philip Morris Klutznick

Maurice Stans

Henry Wallace

Harry Hopkins

Herbert Hoover

Even a Blagojevich knows that Washington isn't Chicago. In Washington you don't place a loyal and able political ally in some obscure public office to garner campaign contribution boodle from local highway contractors. And--oops, that seems to have been the problem with the Bill Richardson nomination.

Come on, Obama, what kind of Democrat are you? I thought Democrats were supposed to be good at this stuff. It's us Republicans who stink at political corruption. One clumsy little elephant misstep and it's GOPterdämmerung with villainy that lives on in popular legend for generations--McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Enron, Jack Abramoff. But when Democrats get their hand (or other body part) caught in the till, folk heroes ensue--Boston's James Curley being reelected while jailed, Washington's Marion Barry being jailed while elected, Quixotic Bill Clinton unfazed by the Rush Limbaugh windmill and riding off into the sunset with fair Dulcinea Lewinsky unceremoniously dumped from the saddle. And, of course, there's Obama's Toddling Town, the Windy City of Richard and Richie Daley with its "corruption that works."

So what's the big deal about Bill Richardson and the highway contractors? You want those highway contractors making their Democratic presidential contributions during the primary campaigns of 2012 when the "failed Obama presidency" is being challenged at the polls by Hillary Clinton?

Speaking of "witch," am I the only person who experienced an unexpected surge of warm fellow-feeling for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when Hillary was named secretary of state? I wouldn't wish dealing with her on my worst enemy, who'd be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I think about the next four years of Hillary's dutiful efforts at global peacemaking, and I hear a chorus of voices echoing around the world--from Israelis and Palestinians, Iraqis and al Qaeda, Taliban and NATO troops, Pakistanis and Indians, Sri Lankans and Tamil Tigers, Georgians and South Ossetians, Colombian soldiers and FARC guerrillas, Hutus and Tutsis, Congolese rebels and other Congolese rebels--all saying, "Thanks, but we'd rather be killed by each other than nagged to death by you."

Mr. future ex-President Obama, if I may address you personally, let's discuss your laundry list of hope and change. In your opinion how often is change really a good thing? Changing a tire. "You'd better change your ways." Change of life. "Spare change, Man?" Any change in a wart or mole.

If change came in a box, what kind of box would it come in? You've read your Bulfinch's. After Pandora opens her container (made of recycled material so that death and disease leave a small carbon footprint) and all the evils that plague mankind have been loosed on the world, what's left inside? Do you think it's a good sign when nothing remains but hope? What would your girls have liked best for Christmas? A kennel with a puppy? Or a carton full of empty promises?

In the language of politics there is only one translation for the phrase "hope and change," to wit, "big, fat government." Mr. Obama, if you're going to give us big, fat government, you need to be a big, fat politician. You need to be a Tip O'Neill, a Teddy Kennedy, a Richard Daley, a Bill Clinton at the very least. And you don't seem to be a big, fat anything--literally or otherwise. You seem to be .  .  . smart and organized. Like Jimmy Carter!

So we may speak without compunction of the failed Obama presidency. What a blessing that it's a failure. Things are bad enough the way they are. There's already a huge ongoing government intervention in the economy. Bringing the government in to run Wall Street is like saying, "Dad burned dinner, let's get the dog to cook." Now the government's going to take over the auto industry. I can predict the result--a light-weight, compact, sustainable vehicle using alternative energy. When I was a kid we called it a Schwinn. And next in line for political therapy is health care. Voting will cure what ails you. Go to the doctor when you've got cancer, and he'll say, "Don't worry. Everything will be fine. I'm going to treat your disease by going inside this small, curtained booth and putting an 'X' next to a very special name."

If we want this sort of thing and lots more of it, we'll need somebody better--that is to say worse--than Barack Obama. Is Obama the man who can make the wolf of partisan spoils dwell with the lamb of public interest, and the leopard of increased political power lie down with the kid of individual liberty; and the calf of personal responsibility and the young lion of social engineering and the fatling of free enterprise together; and a lawyer from Hyde Park will lead them? (And will Nancy Pelosi eat straw like Dennis Kucinich?)

No. Barack Obama doesn't have the outsized personality and flair for bunkum that is necessary to lead even America's sheep-like electorate into such ravenous company. Thank God.

Barack Obama is not a P.T. Barnum of the Washington Big Top. The real P.T. Barnum had a side-show attraction where a lamb, a wolf, a leopard, and a lion had been trained to stay with each other in one cage. Asked if this was difficult Barnum said, "No. But every now and then we have to get a new lamb."

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.