February 19, 2008
When the Magic Fades
By DAVID BROOKS
At first it seemed like a few random cases of lassitude among Mary Chapin Carpenter devotees in Berkeley, Cambridge and Chapel Hill. But then psychotherapists began to realize patients across the country were complaining of the same distress. They were experiencing the first hints of what’s bound to be a national phenomenon: Obama Comedown Syndrome.
The afflicted had already been through the phases of Obama-mania — fainting at rallies, weeping over their touch screens while watching Obama videos, spending hours making folk crafts featuring Michelle Obama’s face. These patients had experienced intense surges of hope-amine, the brain chemical that fuels euphoric sensations of historic change and personal salvation.
But they found that as the weeks went on, they needed more and purer hope-injections just to preserve the rush. They wound up craving more hope than even the Hope Pope could provide, and they began experiencing brooding moments of suboptimal hopefulness. Anxious posts began to appear on the Yes We Can! Facebook pages. A sense of ennui began to creep through the nation’s Ian McEwan-centered book clubs.
Up until now The Chosen One’s speeches had seemed to them less like stretches of words and more like soul sensations that transcended time and space. But those in the grips of Obama Comedown Syndrome began to wonder if His stuff actually made sense. For example, His Hopeness tells rallies that we are the change we have been waiting for, but if we are the change we have been waiting for then why have we been waiting since we’ve been here all along?
Patients in the grip of O.C.S. rarely express doubts at first, but in a classic case of transference, many experience slivers of sympathy for Hillary Clinton. They see her campaign morosely traipsing from one depressed industrial area to another — The Sitting Shiva for America Tour. They see that her entire political strategy consists of waiting for primary states as boring as she is.
They feel for her. They feel guilty because the entire commentariat now treats her like Richard Nixon. Are liberal elites rationalizing their own betrayal of her? Is Hillary just another fading First Wife thrown away for the first available Trophy Messiah?
As the syndrome progresses, they begin to ask questions about The Presence himself:
Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?
Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?
If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.
And should we be worried about Obama’s mountainous self-confidence?
These doubts lead O.C.S. sufferers down the path to the question that is the Unholy of the Unholies for Obama-maniacs: How exactly would all this unity he talks about come to pass?
How is a 47-year-old novice going to unify highly polarized 70-something committee chairs? What will happen if the nation’s 261,000 lobbyists don’t see the light, even after the laying on of hands? Does The Changemaker have the guts to take on the special interests in his own party — the trial lawyers, the teachers’ unions, the AARP?
The Gang of 14 created bipartisan unity on judges, but Obama sat it out. Kennedy and McCain created a bipartisan deal on immigration. Obama opted out of the parts that displeased the unions. Sixty-eight senators supported a bipartisan deal on FISA. Obama voted no. And if he were president now, how would the High Deacon of Unity heal the breach that split the House last week?
The victims of O.C.S. struggle against Obama-myopia, or the inability to see beyond Election Day. But here’s the fascinating thing: They still like him. They know that most of his hope-mongering is vaporous. They know that he knows it’s vaporous.
But the fact that they can share this dream still means something. After the magic fades and reality sets in, they still know something about his soul, and he knows something about theirs. They figure that any new president is going to face gigantic obstacles. At least this candidate seems likely to want to head in the right direction. Obama’s hype comes from exaggerating his powers and his virtues, not faking them.
Those afflicted with O.C.S. are no longer as moved by his perorations. The fever passes. But some invisible connection seems to persist.