I admire Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz the way I admire Sarah Palin. I detest them both, but must admit they are good at what they do. Palin is good at getting out her messages with no accountability or explanation thanks to her Facebook page. Rabinowitz is a master at the subtle art of character assassination. She does it beautifully, with chiseled sentences, immaculate syntax and a truly fine sense of drama. She understand the power of words to put readers into a sort of trance, and she uses this to stunning effect. You don’t even realize she’s performing an assassination.
Today, in a column shamefully titled The Alien in the White House, she sets her sights on Obama, joining the media pack’s obsession du jour, namely his remoteness and lack of connection with Americans. As usual, she starts off with elegant diction disguising a brutal point.
The deepening notes of disenchantment with Barack Obama now issuing from commentators across the political spectrum were predictable. So, too, were the charges from some of the president’s earliest enthusiasts about his failure to reflect a powerful sense of urgency about the oil spill.
There should have been nothing puzzling about his response to anyone who has paid even modest critical attention to Mr. Obama’s pronouncements. For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents…
A great part of America now understands that this president’s sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.
Yes, all the other presidents had these qualities, but not Obama. He is an alien. You can then put in the disclaimer that you don’t mean he is actually an “alien,” as in “illegal alien,” but her words are carefully chosen and they cunningly speak to the GOP base for whom Rabinowitz always writes (though, to her credit, she was as critical of Palin’s being a birdbrain as I was). Her point comes across.
As proof of his coldness, and of his failure to understand what Americans value, like our sacred relationship with Great Britain, she finds an anecdote, and though she admits what actually happened remains unclear, she nevertheless reads into it all sorts of dark meaning. This man is not an American in spirit. He is not “like us.” Here’s the proof:
One of his first reforms was to rid the White House of the bust of Winston Churchill—a gift from Tony Blair—by packing it back off to 10 Downing Street. A cloudlet of mystery has surrounded the subject ever since, but the central fact stands clear. The new administration had apparently found no place in our national house of many rooms for the British leader who lives on so vividly in the American mind. Churchill, face of our shared wartime struggle, dauntless rallier of his nation who continues, so remarkably, to speak to ours. For a president to whom such associations are alien, ridding the White House of Churchill would, of course, have raised no second thoughts.
Sinister indeed, and the right-leaning media like The Corner pounced on it with a vengeance. Obama must be ignorant of WWII and Churchill’s greatness. He is from outside our – the real Americans’ – Judeo-Christian society. He is some mystery, an anomaly, and though she never says it, is there any doubt his being black and partly from Kenyan descent aren’t at cause? And returning to the bust, was there perhaps a simpler explanation than Obama hating England and wanting to spit in its face? Perhaps.
Intended as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity, the bust was a loaner from former British prime minister Tony Blair following the September 11 attacks. A bust of Abraham Lincoln–Obama’s historical hero–now sits in its place. A White House spokesperson says the Churchill bust was removed before Obama’s inauguration as part of the usual changeover operations, adding that every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.
Perhaps Obama’s returning the bust was a bad idea. Maybe he should have kept it. But it’s not like he replaced it with a bust of Mao. To read so much into something so trivial – well, that’s the MO for nearly all the assaults on Obama. Critics ignore the big things, like continuing the drone attacks and renditions and illegal wiretaps, and focus on pure and utter bullshit. He didn’t sound angry enough in Louisiana. He was laughing at a party the day the rig exploded (weren’t we all? It only became a national crisis days later, when BP admitted they did not have it under control.) He bowed too low in front of a foreign leader. He doesn’t wear a US flag lapel pin. He sent a loaned bust back to England.
Rabinowitz waits until the end to thrust the dagger in as far as it can go.
The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world.
But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him. They account for his grand apology tour through the capitals of Europe and to the Muslim world, during which he decried America’s moral failures—her arrogance, insensitivity. They were the words of a man to whom reasons for American guilt came naturally. Americans were shocked by this behavior in their newly elected president. But he was telling them something from those lecterns in foreign lands—something about his distant relation to the country he was about to lead.
The truth about that distance is now sinking in, which is all to the good. A country governed by leaders too principled to speak the name of its mortal enemy needs every infusion of reality it can get.
This is nasty stuff, and of course it’s the fault of the usual suspects, those on the left, and especially academia. Your typical Republican slander against anyone who thinks progressively, branding them as enemies of the state. But she says it so beautifully.
This is one of Rabinowitz’ most skillful columns. It’s devastating. It’s eloquent, yet it’s as inciteful as anything Goebbels ever said. Don’t believe me? Be sure to see the comments. I remember all the nonsense about Bush Derangement Syndrome. That was easily refuted because the outrage in question was based on facts that couldn’t be refuted, like starting wars, permitting torture, consigning habeas corpus to the scrap heap. With Obama, all the derangement is focused on nonsense, like bowing too low. Rabinowitz makes you think the people hate Obama, when his poll numbers have stood up remarkably well. His predecessor left office with a 26 percent approval rating. And, of course, never an acknowledgment that he inherited more problems than perhaps any president ever. It was Obama who brought death into this world and all our woe, and it all started the day he put his hand on the Bible (which was probably a Qur’an with a fake cover) and took his oath of office.
To see just how susceptible people are to this kind of rhetoric, I urge you again to read the comments. As I jumped from page to page, I realized (again) just how dangerous America’s political polarization is, and thought back to the elections from 1980 to 1996, when each side vigorously attacked its opponent, but never referred to them as traitors, as aliens, as Muslims (which the right sees only as a very bad word), as actual terrorists, or at least pals of terrorists. If people truly believe their leaders are animals, monsters, rapists, how long will it take for there to be violence? And Ms. Rabinowitz, no matter how silver-tongued your hatchet job may be, we’ll all know you made your fair contribution.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.