- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Did you see that poll about Iraq suggesting that .. . What’s that? Barack Obama? Oh, sorry. According to the new rules from the American Media Practitioners Association, we’re obliged to make at least one flattering reference to Barack Obama per column, preferably accompanied by that picture USA Today used with his head framed by a kind of luminous halo thing. So OK, all together now: Barack Obama, / What a wonderful phrase. / Barack Obama / Ain’t no passin’ craze. / It means no worries / For the rest of your days.

Barack Obama announced last week he was forming an exploratory committee to explore whether he can really be as fabulous as the media say. And happily the answer is: Yes. He is young, gifted and black, and white and Hawaiian and Kansan, and charismatic and Congregationalist, and Muslim. He rejects the way “politics has become so bitter and partisan,” he represents “a different kind of politics.” He smokes, which is different.

He was raised in an Indonesian madrassah by radical imams, which is more than John Edwards can say. And he looks totally cool when he smokes. I haven’t smoked since I was 14, but I’m thinking of taking it up again just because the sophisticated refreshing nicotine taste helps take the partisan bitterness out of the atmosphere. Barack Obama is Lauren Bacall to America’s Humphrey Bogart. Lauren Barack coolly blows smoke, leans against the wall and purrs: You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

Some commentators say he’s a blank slate. And how long is it since we’ve seen one of those? They used to have ‘em in the schoolhouses back when the kids still learned stuff instead of just discussing their sexuality with the guidance counselor all week long. I’ll bet in those radical madrassahs they’re still using blank slates.

The madrassah stuff was supposedly leaked to Insight Magazine by some oppo-research heavies on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s team. If true, that suggests Hillary is losing her touch. It’s certainly the case that a foreign education doesn’t always assist in electoral politics: John Kerry didn’t play up the Swiss finishing school angle. But look at it from a Democratic primary voter’s point of view, the kind who drive around with those “CO-EXIST” bumper stickers made up of the cross and the Star of David and the Islamic crescent and the peace sign. Your whole worldview is based on the belief that deep down we would all rub along just fine and this neocon fever about Islam is just a lot of banana oil to keep the American people in a state of fear and paranoia. What would more resoundingly confirm that view than if the nicest, most nonbitter, nonpartisan guy in politics turns out to have graduated from the Sword of the Infidel Slayer grade school in Jakarta?

To be sure, the imams always knew young Barack was not your typical novitiate. No doubt when he was late for Friday prayers they stood around singing “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Obama?” How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Who knows? But, if your entire campaign is based on the fact your slender resume represents national reconciliation, why be so modest? Why not upgrade it to represent full-blown global reconciliation?

That poll about Iraq I mentioned right at the beginning was very interesting. It came out last week and it posed various questions about whether folks thought the “surge” was a good idea or not, including: “Do you personally want the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week to succeed?”

And here’s how the American people answered: 63 percent said yes, 22 percent said no, 15 percent said they didn’t know.

Let me see if I understand that. For four years, regardless of this or that position on the merits of the war, almost everybody has claimed to “support our troops.” Some of us have always thought “supporting the troops” while not supporting them in their mission is not entirely credible. But here we have 37 percent of the American people actually urging defeat on them. They “support our troops” by wanting them to lose. This isn’t a question about whether you think the plan will work, but whether you want it to work. And nearly 40 percent of respondents either don’t know or are actively rooting for failure. Which is to say: more dead American troops and more dead Iraqi civilians. Asked whether they want the surge to succeed, 34 percent of Democrats answered “No” and so did 19 percent of independents and 11 percent of Republicans. What were the numbers like for D-Day?

The problem isn’t that our politics is “bitter” and “partisan” so much as that it’s postmodern. In Congress, Democrats have decided to chip away at the war with various symbolic postures but not oppose it outright: that way, if things go well, they can muscle it on the credit. But if things go badly, they’ll be able to say they told you so without getting stuck with the blame.

Over on the other side, the usual Republican squishes (Olympia Snowe et al.) have decided “the facts on the ground” have mysteriously changed and their position on the war is now “evolving.” By “the facts on the ground,” they mean the ground around the polling booths back home rather than any ground in Baghdad or the Sunni Triangle.

Somewhere far away there is a real country called Iraq where real people live and die. But Iraq in domestic terms is now mostly a political calculation and, when it comes to calibrating the precise degree of Defeat Lite that works best for one, most Democrats and more and more Republicans are pushing the rest of the planet to the farthest fringes of the map.

Whether the rest of the planet will be content with a nonspeaking part remains to be seen. But increasing numbers of the American people reject the post-September 11, 2001, paradigm, and there will be a lot of votes for the quiet-life option in 2008.

A doctrinaire liberal disciplined enough to pass himself off as a blank slate with sappy soft-focus multiculti bonafides would seem to offer the most symbolically appealing repudiation of the war years. And all we have to do is whistle: We don’t have to say anything and we don’t have to do anything, which suits us just fine.

And, if Hillary thinks everyone will pursue stories about some long-ago madrassah, she has a sweetly touching faith in the American media.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Mark Steyn, 2005

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