Barack Hussein Obama’s triumphal progress to the presidential mansion was fueled by the utopian sentimentality that dominates the political thinking of large segments of the U.S. population. Here was a dream combination—dark (but not too dark) skin with the manners and platitudes of a classic Midwestern liberal. It was like lackluster Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern reconstituted as charming Sidney Poitier. The evil American past was finally to be overcome and a new world was a-dawning. That Obama had no record and no obvious claim to statesmanship or even competence was no problem. It merely signaled the final triumph of the most virtuous policy of affirmative action.
To be fair, there is a Red State equivalent to Obama sentimentality. I have lost count of the Southern old ladies of both sexes who have chastised me for criticizing “that good Christian man” George W. Bush on the assumption that the election of this shallow, brattish rich boy somehow was a return to old American values.
Leftists, always guided by self-reflective emotion, have never had any trouble reconciling contradictions in their likes and dislikes. But we must wonder how they are coping with the realities of the Obama reign. Incompetence and fecklessness are rather easily forgivable when balanced against utopian rhetoric. But Obama is so ordinary! He has failed to challenge the imperialist posture of the U.S. establishment. In his abuse of the drone option, callous disregard of collateral damage among the darker peoples, neo-conservative initiatives for further invasions, and neglect of legal due process, he has proved a greater offender than Bush.
To change the posture of bipartisan American imperialism would require initiative, wisdom, energy, and political sacrifice. These are simply not in Obama’s repertoire or inclination. He has merely continued on the easiest path—the dishonest combination of war against selected Islamic targets and preaching of universal tolerance of “the religion of peace” so well institutionalized under the hated Republican fascists.
A true liberal would have exposed the contradicition, how the “war on terror” has destroyed the vision of universal benevolence that accompanied Obama’s rocket to the stars. But it was not to be. It was never possible.
Clyde N. Wilson is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and a Contributing Editor to Chronicles. Dr. Wilson is best known as the editor of the 28-volume documentary edition of The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the author or editor of a dozen other books—including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew and Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture—and has published over 700 articles, essays, and reviews. He is also the co-owner of Shotwell Publishing.