Plenty of Symbol, but Where's the Substance?

President-Elect Obama can’t get over his love of the baby-blues, as witness his new “Office of the President-Elect” plaque at the podium. Can he resist the urge to remake the Presidential Seal after all? Would anybody inside the establishment make a peep of protest? Even Jimmy Carter restrained his urges to make-over the office of the Presidency to the confines of the cosmetic and ephemeral: nobody can make the President get out of the limo, or turn the thermometer down, or don a cardigan. Those who think Obama will somehow prove “Burkean”, just because he knows how to bandy the word around, are in for a rude awakening. At the very least: does Obama think he’s STILL campaigning? Will he ever lighten up his intense, oh-so-grave quest for “teachable moments” and make peace with the fact that, yes, he won already? Or that it wasn’t even a squeaker? American elected an African-American President, yes: but then, that shouldn’t be such a surprising possibility, in light of two African-American Secretaries of State, two Supreme Court Justices, a UN Ambassador, a few governors and a plenitude of Congresspeople. Obama wasn’t even the only African-American option on the ballot– there’s Congresswoman McKinney to think of, too.

The MSM is dousing Obama, and itself, in the luxurious bubble-bath of all the good-feeling of an election whose “historicity” must finally be evidenced by its ability to deal with intransigent real-world problems– recession, war, global terrorist “jihad”– and not by its ability to contribute a face for a glossy profile in the pages of overweight middle school Civics textbooks for the edification of future generations. That kind of ‘history’ is decidedly small, and of little real edification, in the span of generations. Barack Obama will not be our country’s last minority chief executive; if he does not settle down to the responsiblities of more than merely symbolic leadership, he will not endear himself to the memory of posterity. Like Carter before him, Obama needs to wrap his head around the distinction between symbol and substance. He did not win this election because he is some kind of walking, talking sacramental vessel; he won because the public is panicked about its economy, and blames the incumbent President and his party for the financial crisis. That attribution of blame is largely conjectural, and at least partly false. But the die is cast. Obama needs to humbly reckon with why he is to be sworn in, and govern accordingly.