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Wednesday, June 4, 2008
by Bernie Reeves
Barack Obama is an accomplished political actor who delivers his lines well, whether or not they contain substance. He manipulates platitudes like Laurence Olivier, calling for “unity” and the end of alleged divisions to create a better world defined by peace among nations and the end of class distinctions at home.
A scene in the film The Queen keeps coming back to me as Democrats scrum to choose a presidential candidate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The world, it seemed, had erupted in emotion over the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. Newly-elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who engineered the removal of socialist clauses in the Labour Party constitution to win under the banner of New Labour, represented a political party steadfastly opposed to the monarchy. Yet Blair knew in his British bones – and to his everlasting credit – that the Queen, for her own good, must react in public to the tragedy. Blair understood she represented an elemental strand of DNA in the country’s national psyche as “head of state,” a fine differentiation for non-Brits, but essential to the self-identity of the kingdom.
Blair harried the Queen to respond to the grief her subjects felt while she was away from London, in residence in her Scottish redoubt at Balmoral. In circumstances weirdly reminiscent of the efforts of 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to entreat Queen Victoria to remove herself from Balmoral – where she was hiding in her grief over the death over her husband Prince Albert – Blair peppered Elizabeth with reports of the reaction to Diana’s death.
Blair told the Queen her subjects demanded that she and the royal family make a gesture and come down to London to address her subjects to assuage their grief that he saw was reaching a fever pitch and undermining the efficacy of the royal family. The Queen was irritated and baffled. Diana and Prince Charles were divorced and the former princess was not of royal blood. Why, she seemed to ponder, should I react to her unsavory death in a car accident with Dodi Fayed, the son of an Arab noveau riche parvenu who had the gall to purchase Harrods department store, a symbol of the British nation?
The Queen also made it clear that she understood her subjects better than Blair. After all, following service in World War II, she had been on the job as Queen since 1953 in her early 20s at the death of her father King George VI, who reluctantly took the job at the abdication of his frivolous brother Edward VIII who chose marriage to the divorced American Wallis Simpson over the duties of state. She emphasized to Blair that her subjects expected her to display detachment and a stiff upper lip – the credo of the British character the world knew and respected.
Another call from Blair caused her to think again. Walking with the Queen Mother along a pathway at Balmoral, she said she now sensed a change in her subjects, a “subtle shift” from the old values to a mode comprised of compassion, outward expression of emotion and kinship with a new breed of public figures defined by celebrity. The world had changed.
Immediately, her Daimler limousine burst through the gates of Balmoral. With her husband, the crusty Prince Phillip, at her side, the Queen viewed the enormous display of flowers and messages placed by Diana’s mourners. She flew to London and addressed the nation as a grandmother sharing the grief of the loss of Diana – and as a reconstructed queen who understood the old values were gone.
Does Barack Obama then represent a “subtle shift” in the American public Elizabeth discerned in her subjects in the reaction to the death of the Diana? Candidate Obama clearly personifies the vision of a New America prophesied and created by the social activists on campus, in politics, in the mass media — and, fittingly, Hollywood.
Obama is a product of black and white heritage running more as a celebrity than a credible leader. He is an accomplished political actor who delivers his lines well, whether or not they contain substance. He manipulates platitudes like Laurence Olivier, calling for “unity” and the end of alleged divisions to create a better world defined by peace among nations and the end of class distinctions at home.
This brew of idealistic slogans – a modern version of the ideals of the utopians of the 19th century and the radicals of the 20th in a “voters of the world unite” manifesto – defies logic, as the outpouring of grief over Diana did to Queen Elizabeth. The question is, have Americans shifted from the volatile, yet grounded politics of the past and embraced the theatrics of a presidential candidate riding on the wings of race revenge and superficial emotion, lifted above the fray of scrutiny by a transfixed national media?
Or, as the frumpish old-line candidate Hillary Clinton hopes, is this Obama phenomenon another suicidal Democrat tempest in a primary teapot heated by a mentally enfeebled media that reports party news releases as truth? If so, Hillary could still pull it out at the Convention, or Obama will be whipped soundly by John McCain.
Or Obama wins. Either way this wind blows, you can still feel the subtle shift.
Bernie Reeves is the editor/publisher and columnist for Metro Magazine, a four-color city-regional magazine covering the Raleigh-Research Triangle-Eastern North Carolina region.
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