Even after two autobiographies, Mr. Obama remains something of a floating, uncrowded presence. His story (and he is so impressively self-aware as to have made the most acute comment on it) is temptingly open-ended, very much a page to be written on. He himself has written, most memorably: "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."Unfortunately, Obama has nothing to follow the first act. If you weren't taken in by the "Hollow Man's" first magic trick--becoming a political chameleon--you just have to be left behind by the Obama "rapture with the gods" transfiguration. It appears that you will have a lot of company.
That is as bold a statement as it is an insightful one. Bold, because it is a remarkable confession from a presidential hopeful. Insightful, because it matches the facts. There are not many personalities so fluid or vague on which an attempt to "project" a storyline would take hold. Imagine, for example, projecting a "rewrite" of Donald Rumsfeld. There's too much of Mr. Rumsfeld already there to offer hospitality to new material.
Mr. Obama, however, has a kind of welcoming emptiness. Eager acolyte or stern observer, both find it difficult not to add, or project, the most flattering, even jubilant, fill-ins.
...People project their best wishes on him, they fill in the blank of a very attractive and plausible outline. His is not, emphatically, a charisma of deeds. For what has he done, save run for president? He is an accommodating vessel - cool, smart, biracial and "unfinished." This is the Gatsby quality of him that others have noted. Like Gatsby, he is a receptacle of others' glamorous invention.
....Mr. Obama's charisma is, in this sense, external, something extended to the candidate. And it follows that that which is given may equally be taken away. The sparkle has, in fact, dimmed. He travels now in a lower orbit, closer to Earth - which is to say, he grows more mundane. The great word "hope" sounds less frequently now. He picks a running mate thick with the dust and rancour of many long years in Washington.
His acceptance speech in the Olympic-style stadium could not gather the inspirational energy of his earlier arias. Of late, the flash supernova of U.S. politics is seen "competing" with a second-on-the-ticket female governor of a remote state. There's more than a gap between the "audacity of hope" and "lipstick on a pig." The mouth that spoke the first phrase should not be capable of the second.
He has shrunk into a combative partisan. He crowds his own screen, leaves less space for projection. Others are not writing his narrative now - he's inscribing his own.
A candidacy that leached so much of its energy and drive from the imagination of others, Gatsby-like, is shedding its gift. The narrative stage is over. It's all tactics from here on in. _GlobeandMail
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Obama as Gatsby, A Phantom Wanting to be Real
The Obama story catches the imagination, until one looks a little too closely. Then it all unravels: