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The mummy speaks

By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday January 20, 2009 06:12 PM

The smartest, hippest, coolest President ever. One of the most arresting speakers ever to seek, much less win, that office. And he just gave the dullest, blandest, most tedious inaugural address I can remember. (And I remember Eisenhower's second.)

What is it about the presidency? Is there some subtly stultifying vapor that outgasses from the Oval Office wallpaper, digging fingers of gelid imbecility into the skull of each successive occupant?

They dry out, they mummify. The overdone vulgar Pharaonic gilding of the office covers a shrunken dusty papery memory of what once was a man, its brains dredged out through the nose, its liver and lights extracted and canned the way my grandmother used to can peaches.

The mummy-makers seem to have done their work on Barack even before he was inaugurated. Hell, they must have started removing his viscera before he was elected. Mummification is not an overnight process.

It's probably worthwhile reading the tea leaves for a minute or two, though they contain few surprises. The Bush trope of a "war on terror" was fully embraced. People with longish memories were perhaps surprised to hear that American troops at Khe Sanh were, in some unspecified way, defending our liberties. And then, of course, the new man in the limousine talked a good deal about "hard choices", a very ominous sign. It's not hard to figure out for whom all the choices are going to be hard.

Normally I make it a rule not to listen to these things. I'd rather read the text -- set aside the speaker's adventitious personal charm, or lack of it, and see what he has to say.

As it happens, I couldn't help hearing this one. I was in a car, driving across the George Washington Bridge to pick up my daughter from school. (I always have the radio on when I drive, because I can't stand to think about the poor souls around me who do this every day).

I braced myself.

Who was it -- Oscar Wilde? -- that famously mused on the strange emotional power of bad music?

Reader, I was prepared to weep, and hate myself for weeping. One tries to keep clear of these orgies of collective emotion, but occasionally the waves will lap up to one's knees or thereabouts, in spite of one's best efforts. And if one has the odd Celtic gene, this sort of shabby facile weeping comes easy.

Instead, I nearly fell asleep and drove right off the bridge. It was an amazing, epoch-making, world-historical bore. A milestone in the millennial history of boredom. A bore that made Cicero and Demosthenes blush and hang their heads and resign their moldy old laurels to the new Bore-In-Chief, Imperator, Malleus Mesopotamicae, Pharaoh, Stultificus Stultificorum, Lord of the Upper and Lower Cliche, and oh yes, Defender of the Faith.

* * * * *

I dunno. Maybe he's a really crafty guy. Maybe he really is our next Roosevelt -- or Lincoln. Hell, why not? Life is full of surprises.

But I got the strange feeling today, as I listened to him, that Othello's occupation's gone. All the guy knows how to do is run for office -- and Lord knows he's damn good at it.

But what office is he running for -- now? Whom does he need to soothe and neutralize? Whom to woo? He's the Grand Turk. The harem is his. No wooing is required.

Certainly no wooing was done today, though it might have been intended. It was a little hard to tell from the broadcast I heard, but the assembled cheering squads sounded... underwhelmed. The mixer dude, a heavy hand on the rheostats, kept cranking up the crowd gain on the obvious applause lines -- and getting a clap here, a clap there. Both of 'em little old ex-CP Jewish ladies from the Upper West Side, if I know my claps.

The disappointing crowd response then led to a very sudden and obvious crankdown on the crowd mikes, over and over again: back to the new Decider, and Christ, let's hope better days are coming.

Or at least better lines. Godamighty, where's the fuckin' applause track?

I'm dyin' out here.

Comments (17)


Othello had a harem?


JKL -- I dunno for sure. I wasn't there. But... wouldn't you? I would.


I know I'm not the first to point this out, but your description of the newly inaugurated Obama reminds me of the end of "The Candidate": "What do we do now?"

LA Confidential Pantload:

Another one whose only talent is running for office? Shoot. That's depressing, 'cause the only other guy I can think of right off the top of my head whose sole (and I mean sole) talent is electioneering is George W. Bush.

Those of us who were figuring on getting the Social Security and Medicare we already paid for, but will now lose to his masters on Wall Street, might need some neutralizing.

Those Kids Today:

Hey lefties, how's it going?

Normally I avoid commies and libs, but since you all seem to hate this, um, "person of color" as much as I do, I'll admit you can't be all bad.

I've got to agree with you that the Obamamessiah's speech was boring, but that's also the point, isn't it? Inaugurations, Super Bowl halftime shows, weddings, they're all boring. They're comforting rituals.

What you really have to do is read between the lines. Look at the little details. The boring ritual isn't there to entertain you. It's there to make the little details stand out. And it's not always going to be obvious. Not everything is Janet Jackson's tit. Sometimes it's just a look in the eyes of the best man when he checks out the brides ass.

And it's obvious what the little detail was today. I haven't thought much about John Roberts before but I've never been more proud of him. He was the perfect model of a patriot. He stepped up and did his duty, even though he was in obvious pain. But, in the end, his emotions came though. Deep down inside, he knows how much of a disaster the Messiah is going to be for America. And he got choked up. He didn't want to go through with it. But he forced himself.

As for the Messiah. Well he may be the Messiah but he doesn't seem to know that he's only the 43rd man to "serve" as President. Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms. That's what affirmative action will do for you I guess.

And Jay, Social Security? Come on Jay. You know as well as I do it's history. Get over it. The government has no responsibility to take care of you. Two words: Personal Responsibility.

But don't get me wrong. I do see some hope in you lefties. The piece about the "call to service" was great. You just have to take it a little further. It's not Obama. It's liberal collectivism in general. All collectivism is coercive. Obama's a soft collectivist. He wants you to "volunteer" your time. Social Security is hard collectivism. You go to jail if you don't pay the tax. It's all socialism.

Hang in there lefties. You're on the right path. Hate the Messiah. Right on. You guys are right on about that. But don't hate the Messiah personally. Hate the socialist ideology he stands for.

A few notes on "How to celebrate your oppression through a Presidential Inauguration."

Such breathtaking analysis on Lincoln's bible, was it his, which version of the bible is it yada, yada, yada.

Anyone who naysays The Prince of Hope is a "beyond the pale cynic" who only wants to harsh the buzz of the American moment.

What color is Michele's dress? Mustard?

So beautiful "comity" between the aisles.

Joe Biden chatting away. Does that even need to be discussed? Twitter, twitter, twitter.

Everyone's here but the star of the show, Barack H. Obama.

Baritone voice: "Ladies and Gentlemen."

Heraldic trumpets in the background.

"My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty...and so on..."

"Great stuff" coming soon to the American political theatre.

Warmed over American Exceptionalism.

Whitewashing of history.

Veiled threats to those who don't get on board.

America as 'can-do' Nation and pretty darn special in fact the mostest specialist ever, in God's eyes.

The Market, The Market, The Market.


I'm pretty sure you could write a simple computer program to create an Obama speech.

"The challenges before us are great. The obstacles we face are daunting. We must stand determined. The road ahead is long and hard.

But together we will rise to a New Day. Through the strength of our principles and courage of our convictions..blah blah blah"

Industrial strength pablum is what it is..gotta be a vat of it in some factory in New Jersey or something..takes a lot more than Maalox to choke this crap down.


These were the odds on the clich├ęs:

What will Obama say first in his first Presidential Address?

  1. 8/1 Change has come

  2. 12/1 As I stand here today

  3. 12/1 Fundamental belief

  4. 12/1 Defining moment

  5. 12/1 God Bless America

  6. 14/1 Let me be clear

  7. 14/1 War on terror

  8. 14/1 Politics of hope

  9. 14/1 Common purpose

  10. 16/1 Crossroads of history

  11. 16/1 I have a dream

  12. 16/1 Pursuit of happiness

  13. 16/1 I'm fired up

  14. 16/1 Building a better America

  15. 18/1 My civil liberties

  16. 18/1 Same old politics

  17. 18/1 Core Values

  18. 18/1 Hungry for change

  19. 18/1 It won't be easy

  20. 20/1 Honour for me

  21. 20/1 Safe from harm

  22. 20/1 Don't get me wrong

  23. 20/1 Decent shot at life

  24. 20/1 They said this day would never come

  25. 25/1 There are better days ahead

  26. 25/1 Challenges that face us

  27. 25/1 Make Washington work

  28. 25/1 Hard to believe

  29. 25/1 We cannot lose hope

  30. 25/1 We can be one people

  31. 25/1 We'll have to make hard choices

  32. 25/1 Make college more affordable

  33. 33/1 For far too long

  34. 33/1 Beacon of freedom

  35. 33/1 All men are created equal

  36. 33/1 Faith in simple Dreams

  37. 33/1 Jobs to the jobless

  38. 33/1 In the words of JF Kennedy

  39. 33/1 All of them with a story to tell

  40. 33/1 Divided, we are bound to fail

  41. 33/1 Where North, South, East and West come together

  42. 33/1 Washington has a long way to go

  43. 33/1 Reshapes our economy

  44. 33/1 Let us transform this nation

  45. 40/1 Homes to the homeless

  46. 40/1 A new direction

  47. 40/1 Deepest Gratitude

  48. 40/1 We all made this journey for a reason

  49. 40/1 There is power in words.

  50. 40/1 There is power in conviction.

  51. 40/1 Willing to listen to each other

  52. 40/1 We can work together to keep our country safe

  53. 50/1 Abiding Faith

  54. 50/1 Possibilities of this Nation

  55. 50/1 Greatness of our nation

  56. 50/1 Believe in what this country can be

  57. 50/1 In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope

  58. 50/1 Unity is the great need of the hour

  59. 50/1 Serve as a model for the world

  60. 50/1 The vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams

  61. 66/1 Legacy of our forbearers

  62. 66/1 Doors of opportunity

  63. 66/1 Brighter day will come

  64. 66/1 Where I learned the meaning of my Christian faith

  65. 66/1 Disagree without being disagreeable

  66. 66/1 Let us be the generation that begins that work

  67. 80/1 Diversity if my heritage

  68. 80/1 Promise of future generations

  69. 80/1 Overcome the adversity

  70. 80/1 We have more work to do

  71. 100/1 Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.

  72. 100/1 An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind

  73. 250/1 Let's get ready to rumble

  74. 250/1 Life is like a box of chocolates

  75. 500/1 Always bet on black!


Forgot to add: #2 and #33 were winners!


"The overdone vulgar Pharaonic gilding of the office covers a shrunken dusty papery memory of what once was a man, its brains dredged out through the nose, its liver and lights extracted and canned the way my grandmother used to can peaches"

nice stuff

Michael Hureaux:

Ditto op.


Lawd have mercy, what will be more intolerable in this new epoch, the unending, acritical adulation hurled Obama's way, or the bizarre lamentations of right-wing nutballs that the dark days of socialism are upon us?

Michael Hureauxs:

I'm more worried about the kum ba ya birkenstock contingent, which seems to be in full bloom this sunny day here in Seattle. "Things feel better already". They must be smoking better stuff then I can get.

Not Oscar Wilde. Noel Coward. In the first act of "Private Lives." As I recall (I once knew the play almost by heart), it's Amanda who remarks to Elyot, as the strains of a song waft up to their terrace from below: "Strange, how potent cheap music is." Not exact, but close.

Hell. Just pulled it out, here's how it goes:

ELYOT: Nasty insistent little tune.
AMANDA: Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.

There you are.

Bored by BHO? Remember what Harold Bloom once said: a great boredom is often a mask for a great anxiety.


DH -- You're quoting *Harold Bloom*? It's easy to see why he might have had an animus against boredom, having engendered so much of it.

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