Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Studio 54 President

In the 1970s, New York's Studio 54 was a nightclub that for a short time was a magical playland for people its owners thought were cool enough to allow into their exclusive den. It became famous as a place where the only rule was that there were no rules, and the only sin was to be boring. There was lots of open drug taking, barely hidden sexual encounters, and people sitting on the laps of perfect strangers.

In a few years the enterprise came crashing down like a disco Hindenburg, a mess of drug-addled mismanagement and law-breaking. After spending a little quality time with seriously uncool people like prosecutors and Treasury agents, the owners went to prison for 13 months. It's easy to think of the Studio 54 scene as more suited to ancient Rome than to the USA.

So now almost 30 years after the demise of the greatest disco that ever was, we've nearly wrapped up the first two years of a presidential administration that we were told early on was going to "change" things. Obama's presidency would be post-racial, post-partisan, transparent, scientific, and just; it would bring Americans together, heal the sick, and stop the seas from rising. The Democratic majorities in Congress vowed to work with the President to forge a new era of tranformative government and an end to corruption.

The fantasyland aspects of Obama's presidency would be amusing if his policies weren't proving to be so destructive. In a time of widespread and persistent unemployment, he has shown an appetite for high living (mostly at taxpayer expense) that is unique among Presidents, and insulting and demoralizing for struggling citizens.  He instructs us to save energy, then takes Air Force One on fuel-burning binges like a crazed Elvis in search of greasy sandwiches he had in some city somewhere that he can't remember. His first two years have seen budget deficits so huge they are barely comprehensible to the human mind; then he tells us his priority for the next two years of his term will be to cut spending. Except this week he says his priority is going to be jobs.  His foreign policy is at best cause for extreme concern, and he appears to think that the clearly growing Islamic terrorist war on the West is a bit of a problem, but nothing to get worked up about.  I could go on, but my teleprompter is stuck.

Since the November elections, Obama and his allies in Congress have gone for broke in the lame duck session, and managed to get some of what they wanted passed. There's been a bit of noise in the media about Obama as a "comeback kid," that he's back, that sort of thing.  The Republicans as usual were happy enough to oblige, many of them apparently still in denial about what the election results meant.  It may be that Obama is confident that even though the Republicans will essentially have the upper hand in Congress come January, they'll find a way to screw things up, and he'll be able to continue on his long march towards the great leftist dreams of more spending, more government, and more control.

Given that it is the Republicans who are his opposition, that may well happen. If it begins to look that way in the early months of next year, though,  I believe the anger from serious conservatives and the tea party types will reach a point where it will be obvious to even Republicans that compromising with the Democrats will be politically fatal.  If the Republicans walk the conservative line (a big if), and Obama is unable to effectively deal with that, his chances for accomplishing much more of his agenda will diminish rapidly.

So there he'll be, still the President, once the center of a great big party that was all about him, becoming more and more of an embarrassment to people who supported him in the voting booth, in the media, and in their hearts. Maybe he'll have feelings like those Studio 54 owners must have felt as they watched their wonderful dreams and beautiful parties die, killed by their own excess and stupidity.  Maybe.

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