- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


Now we’re about to see who Barack Obama really is. We won’t any longer have to rely on parsing his speeches, looking for clues and deciphering the contradictions. We’ll still get speeches - he delivers good ones - but presidents don’t get to vote “present” when the question on the table is what to do about a collapsing economy or terrorists plotting mayhem on New York City.

We’ll learn exactly what he means by “change.” So far his administration looks more like a Clinton Restoration than anything anticipated by the embittered cult on the far fringes of the nutcake left. That’s better than some of us expected. But Nancy Pelosi, the dowager queen of the San Francisco Democrats, and some of her congressional acolytes still dream of resurrecting Nuremberg and putting George W. and Dick Cheney in the dock, like Hermann Goering. She’s disappointed that the new president so far shows scant appetite for marching his predecessor to a hanging tree, or watching him abused under a hail of designer omelet pans thrown by a giddy Lavender Hill mob at a gallows erected at the San Francisco City Hall.

Mr. Obama, like all his predecessors, must disappoint somebody. So far it’s only the nuts who can’t imagine life beyond a rant against what, after today, will be the past. The list kept on the left of his grievous offenses is already a long one: He brings to heel a few moderately conservative pundits, briefly stiff-arms the noisy gay-rights lobby with his choice of preachers to pray at his inauguration, makes John McCain purr with vague promises of an important job, perhaps as chairman of Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up Week, and promises comity and civility along with whatever change he can forge in Washington. He basks in the creepy adulation of the moment, straining the senses and fortitude of the sane, the sound and the sensible, but it’s only fair to keep in mind that the man and his cult are not necessarily the same thing.

The anticipation rocking the capital is surely alarming to the man, because he understands if no one else does that expectations are exaggerated, unreasonable and often foolish. The governor-general of Canada, where January weather sometimes does weird things to the brain, calls Mr. Obama “a major step” in the evolution of humanity. The London Daily Telegraph clearly agrees, observing that Mr. Obama “redefines the male physique,” and offers a photograph of him emerging from the ocean surf, demonstrating how far the amoeba has come. In Hollywood, Demi Moore organizes movie stars to promote sacrifice and to lead by example. One twinkler promises to drink no more water from plastic bottles, another bravely promises to ride the subway the next time she’s in New York. (It’s sometimes hard to lead, but somebody’s got to do it.)

Alas, the honeymoon ends at noon.

George W. leaves an economy virtually owned by the state, and sinking. The new president is dreaming if he thinks that six months hence the recession (or depression if it comes to that) will be regarded as George W.’s. The Israelis accomplished their mission in Gaza, leaving everything neat and tidy (considering the time and place) for the new beginning.

But the incoming president got a pointed reminder Sunday morning of what lies just ahead. Ignoring his mentor-turned-nemesis, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was preaching in a Washington pulpit, Mr. Obama took his family instead to an old-line Baptist congregation, there to hear the pastor tell of the saga of Queen Esther, the Jewish queen of ancient Persia - now Iran - who by wit and wile saved ancient Israel from destruction. Said the pastor, the Rev. Derrick Hawkins, to the man seated on the second row: “Perhaps, just perhaps, you are where you are for just such a time.” No one could miss the point of the sermon.

Given the creepy adulation, Mr. Obama may be tempted to believe the conventional wisdom that nothing succeeds like success. What he will learn is that nothing recedes like success. Friends become disappointed adversaries, adversaries become angry enemies and the cult becomes a mob, looking for revenge and a rope. “If you want a friend in Washington,” Harry S. Truman once said, “get a dog.”

But Barack Obama, who likes to read and who has studied history, knows all this. This is his day, and he’s entitled to the heartfelt best wishes of one and all. Here’s my prayer for God to shower His blessings on the president of the United States. He’s going to need every one of them.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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