This election cycle, the media are not just in the tank for Obama, they are the tank, and that glistening container is sloshing and running over with the sweet milk of hope and change and electoral predestination.
I’ve been wondering why this should be. There are the obvious reasons, of course: the press is always biased in favor of the Democrat, reporters and other news-mongers are overwhelmingly liberal, and the large metropolitan centers in which the major media are located are echo chambers for those fashionable political views that pass for received wisdom. But this year I think there’s something additional afoot, and I believe it has to do with The Narrative.
It appears to me that all of these news writers, reporters, pundits, talking heads, and assorted other gatekeepers are unmasking themselves as frustrated authors, would-be Pulitzer Prize winners who hunger to write the next Great American Novel – and the Obama narrative, as recounted by the candidate and his handlers, perfectly dovetails with their jejune sense of drama. Bouncing around inside their heads, like a ping-pong ball tossed into an empty garage, is the exciting notion that the storyline of Obama’s life makes a great read, and that they now have an opportunity to write the ending to the story in a way they find artistically pleasing.
Just consider the elements of the plot:
1) First serious African-American candidate for president: young, hip and brimming with big city cool;
2) Genuine African roots (his father was from Kenya);
3) A somewhat complicated childhood (father skipped, early years unsettled, wound up being brought up largely by his white grandmother);
4) Worked hard to further his education, finally graduating with a law degree from a prestigious university;
5) Toiled among the disadvantaged, in a non-profit environment, to help better the lot of the poor;
6) Coming to believe that he could have a greater impact by moving on a larger stage, he decides to enter the political arena, where he wins elective office successively in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Senate.
7) He is, ostensibly, a garden-variety liberal, compassionate, tolerant and fair-minded – practically from central casting! – but there are sexy, though vague, undercurrents of radicalism, that could conceivably propel him toward mighty deeds, unprecedented in recent memory.
Are there facts that conflict with, contradict and otherwise undermine The Narrative? Racist and anti-semitic preachers? Terrorist associates? Sweetheart deals with crooked real estate investors? Ethically-challenged fund raising? Thuggish intimidation of political foes? A fundamental contempt for America, for its constitution, for the give and take of our system of government? Well, what do fiction writers do when they want to smooth out the bumps in the plot? They edit, they delete, they ignore; it’s called “poetic license”, and they are, you must remember, laboring to nurture The Narrative, to write that wonderful novel in the only medium at their disposal.
And what is one of the things a writer will do to develop characterization? He will employ the device of contrast, to throw into relief the shining merits of the Young Hero. So, if Obama is a veritable Beowulf, the storyline demands that John McCain and Sarah Palin be cast in the respective roles of Grendel and his mother. This may not be fair, or even remotely factual, but we must never forget: The Narrative is the thing!
Unlike the yellowing, dog-eared manuscript of a traditional novel, resting in the desk drawer or file cabinet of the novelist manqué, wrinkled and dirty after numerous round trips to disparaging publishers, The Narrative as it unfolds in the minds of these indefatigable scribblers is read everyday, and taken in by that uncomfortably large portion of the population – described by H.L. Mencken as the “booboisie” – not as the torrid potboiler for which the “bodice-ripper” is the obvious model, but as genuine biography and scientific fact, with potentially alarming consequences for the future of the Republic.
If Obama is elected, one wonders what prodigies of literature our frustrated novelists will turn out under the guise of “news” at the end of four years. My guess is that the Young Hero celebrated in the stanzas of today’s epic poetry will undergo a sharp transformation, as will the genre used to aid and abet his struggle to secure a second term. Look for the world-weary loner of noir fiction: hard-bitten and cynical, but possessing his own admirable code of honor, pressing forward to do the right thing amidst the disasters and crimes with which he is beset – through no fault of his own! – but with which he has been framed by his cunning enemies. Perhaps the press can work in some gangsters or Nazis, or maybe a company of night-riding Republicans. There is plenty of time to decide whether Bobby Jindal will look better in a white hood and robe, or in jackboots, a gleaming monocle in his eye. Plenty of time to create a new Narrative.