Even the left appears to have fallen out of love with Obama, and wonders how and why it all went wrong. Read as Tom Junod tries to puzzle it out in Esquire:
Though many Americans didn’t know very much about him, there was one thing that was never in doubt when we saw and heard Obama on the stump: his ownership of his gift. By the way he carried himself, we could tell that he had always had it, and because he always had it, we could be sure that he always would have it. How could we resist a man who simply by opening his mouth could move mountains — and who had ascended all the way to the presidency by staking his political life on his own eloquence? How could we resist a man who seemed so sure that we could not resist him?
Now his gift has all but deserted him, and all that prevents the story from becoming tragic is his own apparent refusal to be affected by it…In less than two years he had gone from sounding like a man who could always count on his ability to strum the mystic chords of memory to a man who, no matter what he said, sounded like a politician, and one in over his head at that. Now he sounded like a man who had already realized that he had lost more than he imagined he could but was just starting to understand that he was never going to get it back.
Junod is right, and he’s also wrong. He’s describing what he perceives to have changed about Obama, and it’s true. Rather like Dumbo when he lost his magic feather, Obama has lost some of the belief in his own invincibility that carried him along, and it shows.
But Junod thinks he is describing something that mainly has its locus in Obama himself, and that it is Obama who has changed. Not really, except for a slightly lower confidence level. Junod is actually describing the process of falling in and then out of love on the part of the viewer.
Obama never was a great communicator. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating now: he rode on a stump speech and a vague promise, and the fervent hope in people’s minds that he would be whatever they happened to want him to be. He was never articulate off the cuff. He was always condescending and cold once he left the confines of that set speech. He had a terrible and/or nonexistent political record. He had never run anything except the Annenberg Challenge (and that was done poorly) or the Harvard Law Review. He had no sense of humor.
They fell in love nevertheless. Love is great. It feels good, but it tends to be blind. And when you fall out of it, you wonder what happened. You can explain it by saying that it’s the love object who has changed. Or you can wonder whatever you were thinking of in the first place.
Junod and many Obamaphiles (is it premature to call them ex-Obamaphiles?) are doing the former. In one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Titiana does the latter:
Shakespeare’s play is an exploration of love and its mysterious qualities. When Shakespeare has the character Puck observe to the Fairy King Oberon, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” he’s talking at least in part of their propensity to be fooled—in the case of the play, by his own magic machinations, among other things. The play has the lovers manipulated in a curious way: Puck puts some drops in their eyes that alter their perceptions and make them fall in love with the first being who comes their way.
Thus, the locus of the change is placed in the beholder, where it often belongs. The object of love remains the same person, whether adored or despised. When Puck places the drops in her eyes, Fairy Queen Titania falls in love with an ass (that is, a rude laborer, Bottom, who has been transformed by magic into a man with a donkey’s head, but let’s not get too technical). When Puck later applies the antidote and she falls out of love, she can’t believe she ever liked Bottom in the first place.
Junod, on the other hand, doesn’t doubt that Obama originally possessed the sterling characteristics his admirers perceived in him. Junod sees the main locus of change as being in Obama, not in himself as Obama-watcher. When Junod writes, “How could we resist a man who simply by opening his mouth could move mountains?” he’s being hyperbolic (at least I hope he is). But Obamalove came close to being just that irrational and just that emotional.
In the play, everything comes out all right in the end (although, as the character Lysander says, “The course of true love never did run smooth”). In politics, not so much. Of course, 2012 is a long way away…and there’s a lot of room for reconciliation. But can one ever recapture that initial glow?