In Oscar Wilde’s most chilling work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the cynical, aging Lord Henry exclaims to his perpetually youthful friend, “I wish I could change places with you, Dorian. The world has cried out against us both, but it has always worshipped you. It always will worship you. You are the type of what the age is searching for, and what it is afraid it has found. I am so glad that you have never done anything—never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or produced anything outside of yourself! Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.”
Dorian Gray knows better, of course. Beneath his comely features and mellifluous voice lurks a secret he consigned to oblivion, or at least so he thinks. A dusty attic hosts his shrouded portrait, which over the years has been silently recording his deadliest secrets, his adventitious missteps, his every sin. There his portrait shall reside forever—until Dorian Gray decides in a stunning dénouement to expunge it from his life. With fatal consequences.
Now Senator Obama is not Dorian Gray, and it is not likely that his physiognomy maintains its freshness through a series of mysterious, metaphysical bank shots that assault a secret painting he keeps securely ensconced in an unknown location. If such a portrait does exist, however, several events in the springtime of this campaign season have functioned to lift the shroud just a bit, permitting voters to sneak a few peeks at what skulks beneath. And what we have seen has not been pretty. Indeed, the Obama phenomenon has yielded a number of truths about American politics that in the biographic shroud business constitute serious slippage. Here are just two.
Anti-Americanism. This has been standard fare in American politics since the 1960s, including among several African-American civil-rights leaders, but has been rhetorically bludgeoned to silence by its most artful practitioners, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Jackson continued to bask in the hagiographic glow of Martin Luther King Jr. and was able to play the race card under nearly any circumstances, under a racial version of diplomatic immunity. Al Sharpton achieved through sheer bombast what no non-African-American could ever hope to accomplish: even if specific accusations of racism are not true, he admitted, the larger picture of a corrupt society remains intact. But outside a clutch of devoted followers, who ever took Sharpton seriously? Sure, these guys hurl animadversions against America, but c’mon! They’ve been around forever and we’ve all gotten kinda used to it, right?
Then along comes the real deal, a raving, dyed-in-the-wool, hate-speech spewing anti-American in the form of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose diatribes no doubt took many Americans by surprise. Doing his best impression of Captain Renault in Casablanca, who stated he was “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” (after which he was presented with his earnings), Obama disavowed Wright’s most loathsome tirades. But the firebreathing pastor hasn’t relented. In speeches given on April 27 and 28, Wright praised Louis Farrakhan (“one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century”), asserted that black Americans have better rhythm and their brains are wired differently (“that means creative and intuitive”), and insisted that America is a terrorist country capable of spreading HIV among African-Americans in a genocidal campaign to reduce their numbers. This is the guy who was the senator’s spiritual “mentor” for two decades. Unless Obama is much more vehement in his disassociation from the pastor, he’ll soon enter the Jurassic Park of other failed Democratic presidential contenders.
Media Rubes. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a “rube” as a “naïve or inexperienced person,” or “an awkward unsophisticated person.” Clearly, no better set of adjectives can be found to describe a great many American journalists, who together have managed to provide Obama with an 86 percent favorable report rating, at least through March of this year. Let’s take a leap here and suggest that at least some of the 90 percent of reporters who regularly vote Democratic are naïve about religion, inexperienced in the ways of small-town America, awkward when in full-Obama-philia mode, and unsophisticated about such things as, for instance, hunting, church-going, illegal immigrants, or waving the American flag. Don’t be impressed by American journalism; the most impressive thing about the New York Times is its font.
Which leaves us with Dorian Gray’s response to Lord Henry’s comments: “Yes, life has been exquisite… [You] must not say these extravagant things to me. You don’t know everything about me. I think if you did, even you would turn from me.”
This is the real truth about the young Senator from Illinois: the more this veil about his past is lifted, the greater the chances are that many voters will turn away from him in revulsion. Except those rubes, of course, who “cling” to views that reflect their naiveté, inexperience, and lack of sophistication.