Since he debuted on the political stage with the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Republicans have suspected that Barack Obama was a Marxist. It turns out they were right: He's Groucho.
In the 1930 film Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx, a comedic genius and wit, played Captain Jeffrey Spaulding. He sang a lyric called "Hello, I Must Be Going."
Hello, I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going. I'm glad I came but just the same, I must be going.
Through his brief career, our president has sung a similar tune. He has been for what he is against, too.
Obama was the candidate who supported "pay as you go budgeting." He is now the president who plans trillion-dollar a year deficits for the next decade. He spent a trillion dollars on health care and explained it was a strategy to save money. He deepened our commitment to war in Afghanistan while pledging to exit earlier. He supports American energy independence while limiting energy production. He has shunned earmarks while embracing 8,600 of them. In the same breath, he urges both costly economic stimulus and deficit reduction. He tells his party, "Democrats are not for a bigger government," as he prescribes a new federal pill for every ill.
Obama repeatedly said he did not want the government running the car industry -- as his government took over Chrysler and GM, fired the latter's CEO, and guaranteed their service contracts. He won election by attacking Hilary Clinton's plan to mandate health insurance coverage and John McCain's tax on Cadillac health plans. He was not long in office before he proposed both, himself. He slammed President Bush's tax cuts and the "tired and cynical philosophy," behind them. Then he extended those tax cuts. He said, "Lobbyists will not find a job in my White House," which was true, until they looked and did. And now, he confounds himself again as he confronts a president's most serious responsibility. Even as he sends Americans into harm's path, he is coming while going again.
In Libya, the president has embarked upon the war he says is not a war, announcing while getting in that our purpose is to get out. He says Gaddafi must go while the Chairman of his Joint Chiefs of Staff clarifies that is not our objective. This zigzagging serenade would impress even Captain Spaulding.
I've written before in these pages about the molten core of Barack Obama. He is not a false-hearted man. He is, however, an uncertain one. In his own eyes, as voiced in his poetic autobiography, Dreams From My Father, he is many men, the son of one race and also another. He is as much Harvard tea as Chicago grit. The dry dust of Kansas and the red soil of Kenya both mark his hands. But life has not yet hardened Obama to follow one star above all others. He remains a wanderer, a president in progress. With equal passion, his bright mind displays its capacity to defend and even adopt incompatible points of view. He has not yet learned that the man who defends everything defends nothing. And, eventually, becomes nothing. Obama remains unformed, an ever-changing president in pieces. Maturity has not yet found him. Our first black president is not yet an integrated man.
The original Groucho Marx enjoyed a decade of success hosting a game show called "You Bet Your Life." The new one, dangerously unknown, even to himself, is betting many lives, as well.
I'll stay a week or two, I'll stay the summer through, but I am telling you, I must be going.
Alex Castellanos is a Republican media consultant and a partner in the public affairs firm Purple Strategies.
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