Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Is Barack Obama Clark Kent? Or is He Instead Superman?

Please allow me this minor bit of self-indulgence.

As a ghetto nerd, I am obligated to respond to any news item which purports to connect President Barack Obama with an iconic comic book character. Moreover, a while back I offered the suggestion that Michael Steele, former Chairman of the GOP, was actually the embodiment of the character known as John Henry Irons. I was quite rightly (and quickly) corrected by commentator Heavy Armor that Steele was more akin to the character known as Bizarro Superman.

The meme is back--as 1) it is so obvious and 2) because Superman lives in the collective subconscious for now and forever--and CNN has accordingly picked up the ball and run with it.

I rarely offer polls. They can be fun. So please vote.

So you tell me, readers of WARN and other travelers, is President Obama actually Clark Kent, a weak, malleable, chronic compromiser, a running critique of the whole human race?

Or is President Obama actually Kal-El, the man who we know as Superman, and he is playing a deep game, lest we be afraid of his greatness of strength and fortitude of character?

Please listen carefully to Bill a.k.a David Carradine's soliloquy on Superman. I would suggest that we can easily extend his pithy words to our sitting President.

In all, the differences between Obama, Superman, Clark Kent, and Kal-El are nuanced. They are also a great example of popular culture as politics; thus, popular culture is made into a useful lens for thinking about basic questions of presidential leadership and governance.

From CNN:

Obama: Clark Kent or Superman?

Washington (CNN) -- What did you do over your summer vacation?

If you're President Obama, you've had a bit of a transformation. That is, from the mild-mannered Clark Kent into, well, Superman.

Or something like that.

When we last left this story, President Obama was trying to be the measured adult in the room, compromising over the debt ceiling to get a deal. In the end, it wasn't the "grand bargain" that Obama wanted. Liberals argued that it was awful, too -- chastising the president for negotiating with himself. And Republicans complained that they needed more spending cuts. And, oh, by the way, they still wanted to repeal health care reform.

In other words, an unsatisfactory experience for all.

So when Obama came back to D.C. this fall, the feeling inside the White House was that something had to change. The bad news: Mr. Adult (aka Mr. Compromise) had sunk to new lows in the ratings. The good news: Congress had sunk even lower. Way lower. Then House Speaker John Boehner gave a speech outlining his demands for the deficit reduction "supercommittee."

Top of the list: no new taxes.

Shocking, I know.

That about did it. The White House figured it had no partner for peace. The man who had almost signed on to the grand bargain -- with some tax increases and entitlement cuts -- wasn't about to come back to the table anytime soon.

The next step: play the game.

The president outlined his demand for the debt reduction supercommittee: no spending cuts for the middle class without commensurate tax increases on the wealthy. No proposals for long-term entitlement reform. But there was a catchy bumper sticker: the Buffett Rule. Billionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us.

It's not intellectually satisfying. Nor does it improve the chances for a deal out of the supercommittee that can get anywhere in Congress. It's politics, plain and simple.

In fact, the strategy does one big thing: It reunites the president with the base of the Democratic Party, which finally had something to cheer. When Barack Obama came out swinging this week, threatening to veto any deficit reduction measure without a balance of new taxes and spending cuts, there was joy among liberals. Obama had finally come home.

For the rest of us, well, it was a dismal peek at reality. Who can really fault the White House for playing politics with Republicans who have refused to cut the big deals? After all, the GOP presidential candidates, by and large, are still complaining that Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling. After Boehner lay down his laws, Obama had to do the same. He could no longer negotiate with himself.

So he joined the game. Maybe it's the opening salvo, and maybe something will come of this kabuki. But there is a final calculation here: if nothing comes out of the supercommittee, the president would be less damaged than the Congress.

As for the rest of us, we're still Waiting for Superman. The real one.


Improbable Joe said...

Maybe... Obama's just a center-right, old-school Republican running as a Democrat because the Republican party has moved so far to the right. That seems to describe most of the Democrats these days, who are centrist at best, would have been comfortable as Republicans in the 1970s, but don't hate gays and minorities enough to be members of the current party.

I think this whole Clark Kent/Superman thing is a symptom of the larger problem of people trying to project character onto Obama, instead of just looking at what he says and does and accepting what it says about him.

Anonymous said...

Obama is a pragmatist trying to get things done. He was hoping to bring a culture of compromise back to DC and failed, so now he's trying to different paths.

He's actually done quite a lot, but his big failure is communication and lack of propaganda, so unless you listened to whatever 10 min piece on NPR that mentioned an accomplishment (or read the occasional Carville article on his accomplishments), chances are you don't even know it happened.

If that gang of six plan had been passed, it would have been a huge victory for him.

nomad said...

He ain't Superman. He's more like Bizarro in that he is doing the opposite of what a superman would do as POTUS. Using the metaphors offered in the video he'd be one of those soulless killer bees. But primarily he is a trickster type. In the Superman universe that would make him Mr. Mxyzptlk.

afrodiction said...

Ain't hearin' it. BO is Supaman, yo. No doubt.

330+ million people he's gotta represent. Forget the voting percentage of that number, because babies, non-voters, and the incarcerated are all spoken for by those who CAN and DO vote. While it may seem simple to intelligent, well-educated, and logical folks that this-here-thing-should-be- done, he's got Congress with its dysfunctional kin telling him he cain't do that.

Yes, I've been disappointed that he hasn't done everything he's said he would. Yes, I've been disappointed by what appears to my non-White House occupying eyes easy capitulation. However, yes, he was essentially a minor child handed the shitty diaper of his baby sister while Mom and Dad went out to spend the last thousand of the college fund, and then punished for not putting the baby to bed at exactly 8 pm, and leaving the skidmarked onesie on the floor for all the drunken company to see.

Y'all KNOW The Force (for Good) is with this one. Let him do what he can. Please.

If you don't buy any of that: you know damned well we wouldn't have had better with anyone else in his seat.

chaunceydevega said...

@Improbable. What is Obama telling us about him then?

@Nicole. Is the failure in communication his fault or others? What of his responsibility as singular with THE bully pulpit?

@Nomad. Not dark seid?

@Afro. Superman? Really? Which Earth's...just geeking out ;)

nomad said...

Darkseid? Dunno much about him, 'cept that I seen him kick Superman's ass once in an animated movie. Obama's not that strong. He's not weak either. But he's taking orders from someone else. Probably in the Superman universe he would correspond to a minion of the arch-fiend Lex Luther. What was that character Lex created in one of the Superman movies? "Nuclear Man". Thanks Google.

Anonymous said...

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