Entry from July 14, 2008

Last week, Gail Collins of The New York Times offered a novel defense of Barack Obama’s rightward dash for votes since clinching the Democratic nomination last month. It was that he really hadn’t changed at all but was only saying what he had been saying all along. We just weren’t listening. Ridiculous as this may sound to those of us who seem to remember having been wearied by all the rhetoric about “change” and a “different kind of politics,” there may be something to her contention. For you could easily say that the vagueness, the tautologies, the — pardon me — meaninglessness of the Obama rhetoric (“We are the change we seek”) are all just another way of saying that he wants to be all things to all people. His post-nomination transition is thus just the flip — sorry — side of his pre-nomination pandering to the base by leaving out anything controversial, or even substantive. Both are his way of saying: I can be anything you want me to be.

But I think that Ms Collins must be mistaken when she writes of the senator that

if you look at the political fights he’s picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. ‘I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,’ he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of Iraq. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb.

But all wars are dumb wars so long as you think — as Senator Obama has sought to make it his trademark to show he thinks — that war can be avoided by being smart. It’s not very smart not to realize this, as the Senator apparently does not.

In any case, he’s not antidumb anymore, at least not to judge by today’s Times in which he stupidly proposes to toss away the hard-won fruits of victory in Iraq on the grounds that going there in the first place was “the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy” — as he had foreseen it would be when, unlike Senator McCain, he had opposed the invasion in 2003. He does not mention that he also foresaw that the surge would have no effect on the level of violence in Iraq, even though he is now constrained to acknowledge that “in the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence.” Can there be a dumb peace as well as a dumb war, I wonder? Or is the Senator only “antidumb” when it suits him to brag about his own foresight? He must at least be hoping that the rest of us are dumb enough not to notice that whether he was right or wrong in 2003, as only the event will prove, we know already that he was dead wrong in 2007.

Where’s a fellow to find a good flip-flop when he needs one? Oh, I forgot. The official position is that he has always said the same thing — and he has been right all along.


In the She-should-have-seen-it-coming department:

Every critic lives for the opportunity to be as magnificently condescending as Pete Paphides, of The Times of London in his review of a new recording by Carla Bruni, now the First Lady of France but formerly the mistress of such glamorous figures as Mick Jagger and, er, Donald Trump. Miss Bruni, as she still styles herself professionally, is also by way of being an artiste: a singer of heartfelt ballads the latest collection of which is called Comme si de rien n’était (As if nothing has happened). It includes one song presumed to be addressed to M le Président called “Ta Tienne” (Your ‘Yours’) a line or two of which which Mr Paphides translates thus: “I, who used to make men dance, I give my whole self to you . . . Let them curse me, let them damn me. I don’t give a stuff.”

Of course, if you or I were President Sarkozy, we would be blushing, squirming and curling our toes at the very idea of the little woman’s publicly singing such a song about us. We would doubtless decamp from the Elysée Palace by night and become hermits somewhere in the Pyrenees. But neither the diminutive president nor his missus seems to be notably susceptible to embarrassment. If they were, presumably they’d not have courted in the public fashion that they did or married in the first place. They say you have to have a thick skin to go into politics, and here’s the proof of it. It would take an elephant gun to get through the hide either of Monsieur or of Madame Sarkozy.

What hope, then, for Mr Paphides’s elegant stiletto? But we connoisseurs of damnation with faint praise, here as so often a sub-variety of British understatement, will long savor his critical summing-up: “Comme si de rien n’était may be the best album ever made by the wife of a head of state. Even if the only other contender in the field hadn’t been the 1989 record that Imelda Marcos made of her husband’s favourite love songs, the album would still hold its own.” Ouch! And yet we must feel the prick of it more than she does.


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