The Lucky Man Called Obama

I was mulling over why Obama did so badly last night in his debate with Romney. Then I saw this quote from James Taranto:

“What we saw last night was the real Obama–a bright but incurious and inexperienced man who four years ago was promoted well beyond his level of competency. The Obama that guys like Matthews and Sullivan expected instead was a character in a fairy tale–a fairy tale written by guys like Matthews and Sullivan.

When I think of what we’ve been allowed to know about Obama, this seems only too true. Raking together the scraps of Obama’s life we’ve been given, it seems obvious that he was an indifferent student in junior and high school. He went to Punahou, one of the most exclusive schools in Hawai’i, but on a scholarship for needy, not meritorious, students. While there he was a C or C- student. It is a mystery how he then got into Columbia, but one would guess it must have been through affirmative action, for his grades could never have done it. Judging by the one essay we have seen from Columbia, his writing was terrible and sophomoric, so a similar mystery surrounds his admission to Harvard. His time at Harvard law school is oddly bare of any sterling academic writing, which is surprising, since he became president of the Harvard Law Review. But the single article he seems to have written (a review of fetal rights) was workmanlike and nothing more. But then, that post was a popularity contest, not a sign of intellectual ability. He seems to have done well in the end here: he graduated magna cum laude. In his time as an adjunct at Chicago, he published not a single law review article, but managed to get heavily involved in community organizing and politics, and rose rapidly in this area.

What do we have from all this? Three things first of all. One is that Obama was articulate. Another is that he had style enough to become politically effective. The third is that he had a great deal of ambition. If he had lacked any of these qualities, he could hardly have been a good politician.

But the most important thing he had was luck. He was lucky in the place he was born and the expensive schools he went to, for clearly he did not get there because of his brilliance.

It seems he was lucky in another way as well, then: he was black.

He was incredibly lucky in that the media so took to him, surrounding him with a bubble of protection, built by their worship of what seems to be a liberal ideal. He seemed perfect to show all the racists that an African American could do anything, as if he marched to a black version of “I am woman”. They built a fantasy of someone who only partially existed: a brilliant, articulate, multitalented, super-competent black man who would become the greatest president the USA had ever had. And to achieve that, they ignored every single thing that could harm him, every detail that intruded on their dream, every thing that detracted from him. They ignored all that he hid of his life. And, worst of all, they ignored the utter lack of experience he had in running anything, let alone the government of the USA.

But the truth is that Obama is not brilliant. He’s black. And he’s lucky.

But luck always runs out some time. It ran out last night. We saw the real Obama as the fantasy was smashed by Romney’s rhetoric: an articulate, once-lucky, not very competent person who really isn’t that good at what he’s tried to do.

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