Five weeks to go until Election Day, and the Romney campaign says it is counting on the debates to change things. Leading one to wonder . . . what’s to debate? Mitt Romney is the challenger against an incumbent whose record of failure is long and nearly unblemished.
Barack Obama promised that if his stimulus plan were adopted, unemployment would be held at under 8 percent. The plan was adopted, and unemployment has been over 8 percent ever since. He promised to cut the deficit in half. The deficit rose and now comes in routinely at over a trillion dollars a year. He promised a new and sunnier day in relations between the United States and the Muslim world. Our ambassador to one Muslim nation was murdered by terrorists, and an official of another Muslim nation has put a bounty on the head of an American resident for producing a video that offends Islam. The renewable energy projects that we were told would provide “green jobs” have gone bankrupt, costing billions, while the price of gasoline has doubled. And on and on.
Meanwhile the president is holding his own in the polls while Romney struggles. One suspects that this isn’t a question of voters not understanding the candidates’ positions on the issues, and that a couple of debates are unlikely to clear up the confusion. This looks more like a refusal by a big part of the electorate to recognize reality. The question is . . . why?
The answer, according to Craig Karpel, is the same one that accounts for a lot of our contemporary miseries: namely, addiction.
“My name is Craig K., and I’m an Obamaholic,” he writes to open The 12-Step Guide for the Recovering Obama Voter. “Welcome to what Alcoholics Anonymous would call a ‘meeting in print.’ We’re here to admit to each other and to ourselves that the Obama presidency isn’t Obama’s fault—it’s ours. We should be impeached for having elected him.”
Karpel is, of course, having fun here. He has the kind of satirical gifts that legions who blog on these matters earnestly try to attain but which remain, forever, beyond their reach. Here, for instance, is Karpel on Al Gore:
. . . ever wandering from one five-star hotel to another, his humble mantle—mantle collection, actually—stitched together on self-effacing Savile Row, subsisting somehow on speaking fees of $175,000 per jeremiad, the extent of his renunciation of the pleasures of the flesh ascertainable from his continually expanding girth, warning evildoers (that would be you and me) that this earthly realm will soon be engulfed by “the-fire-next-time,” updated to “global warming,” re-updated to “climate change,” formerly known as “weather.”
Karpel did not, plainly, write just another campaign book, searching for weak points in the Obama record which he can attack. His target is the earnest and exalted expectations that many, many Americans have invested in the political process and the political class, to include the media. He comes to the job having gone through his own conversion experience. Karpel once made a home in the journals of the New Left but was never quite a fully paid-up member. He was too skeptical, too humane, too inclined to see through the cant and pomposity as, for instance, in the way the grubby world of American politics has tried to dress itself in the threads of intellectual respectability, and in the way it overuses and misuses certain high-falutin’ words. Here, for example, is Karpel’s Step 2 on the road to recovery from Obamaddiction: “We need to acknowledge that instead of valuing only character, we became addicted to charisma.” An addiction that, he goes on to write,
had its origin in the 1960 campaign, during which the pundits of the era couldn’t quite define it but made it clear that, whatever it was, John Kennedy had it and Richard Nixon didn’t.
Charisma: noun, a quality that, though indescribable, is so marvelous that it can be referred to only in ancient Greek.
There are many such moments in this book. Karpel writes like a machine gunner, searching out enemy terrain with three- and five-round bursts, seeking targets of opportunity and, more often than not, finding them:
- Promoting a limp impression of civility is, after all, so much more important than defending civilization.
- Obama entered politics from academia, and like any academic, he wants tenure.
- Obama’s election was the triumph of biography over achievement. We allowed ourselves to become Obama-new junkies, in the grip of lack-of-substance abuse.
There are many, many more where those came from. Their glitter almost distracts the reader from what Karpel is really engaged in here. Almost. But not quite.
What Karpel has identified is the reason why Obama is still buoyed up in the polls despite being so far behind the curve of his own promises, not to mention incompetent at the job he was elected to do. The reason is that American politics has been infected with a need by the media for “narrative” and by millions of voters for the kind of emotional hit they get from show business:
In 2008 it became common for legacy media personnel covering the presidential campaign to try to convey the dazzling podium-presence that they attributed to Obama by calling him a rock star. Leaving aside the problem that real rock stars—I’ve known a few—tend to be insecure, vain, fickle, capricious, and, except when on stage, shy, the reality is that they earn their living by driving audiences into transports of ecstasy. It is not a good thing that American politics has degenerated to the point that calling a candidate for the most critical job on earth a rock star is considered a compliment.
It is important and urgent, Karpel writes, that those in the grip of Obamaddiction move past denial and stop blaming others, accept responsibility, and embrace alternatives. One suspects that he isn’t holding his breath. And, of course, the AA modeling is just the scaffolding. The book isn’t written so much to change behavior or minds—like the debates upon which the Romney campaign has now pinned its hopes. What Karpel has done—delightfully, given the gravity of the exercise—is explain how we arrived at a point where “we became hooked on a political cult that, blurring the distinction between government and religion, presented a politician as a messianic figure.”
One Karpel has now memorably and conclusively made laughable.
Geoffrey Norman, a writer in Vermont, is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.