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John McQuaid

John McQuaid

Posted: January 8, 2010 11:53 AM

Not By Maureen Dowd

What's Your Reaction:

Obama, Verklempt
maureen dowdNot By MAUREEN DOWD

It was an indelible Obamamoment. Maybe even an Obamamiracle.

The president was sandwiched between Hillary and Michelle, like turkey on white and pumpernickel with a dollop of dijon, for a photo op with Hamid Karzai. It's the kind of situation that gets all up in his grill, two strong women in a pincer movement.

This is one reason why, although he's ballooned the deficit up to an astonishing $1.4 trillion, the perpetually svelte and self-denying Dieter-in-Chief favors egg white omelets and Tofurkey over real food: he's so skeletal he can easily slip out of a tight spot.

Sure enough, when those quickly converging upper arms - one bare and brawny, one in pantsuit armor - brushed his, Obama turned sideways and disappeared.

Our president may be a wispy, nicotine-addicted Vulcan short an emotion chip. But he's mastered the technique of giving his enemies the slip, apparating out of there like Harry Potter in a tight spot with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Bill Clinton went all the way to hell and back; W never knew he was in hell; he thought it was just Crawford in August; our Barack, Arabic for "blessed," somehow skirts the Purgatory of the skirts.

Little Lord Fauntledubya and his regents Rummy and Cheney imagined themselves kings of the world, threw our most fundamental values over the prow of the ship of state and planted a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the iceberg it struck - all of it with less thought than Samantha Jones gives to a mid-seduction powder-room touchup.

But Obama promised us the utopias of Philip K. Dick and Aldous Huxley and all we got was James Cameron: Osama avatars prancing through security in PETN-enhanced underpants.

It's sad. All the twentysomething neophyte acolytes on the White House staff know how to post status updates to their Twitter accounts and sext their way through the Washington's hookup hangouts and the most pious of C Street swinger's dens. But they aren't so adept at sending their poorer, less-educated contemporaries to die chasing Osama up Waziristan's wazoo.

Tasked with cleaning up this ginormous mess, Barack, Rahm and Ax are swooning over the burdens of Yemen, Afghanistan and Gitmo like tween girls with a case of the vapors from one too many viewings of "New Moon." America is Twilight's Bella, divided eternally between soulful, self-denying Team Barack and meat-eating Team Cheney.

Dick Cheney is Darth Vader; it's Barack who will need a defribrillator. And is kind of like Bill Hader.

Which brings me back to the other day, when my friend Leon Wieseltier and I were taking in the National Geographic Society's Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit, where the statues are crumbling like Tiger Woods' endorsement deals, yet remain standing after 4,000 years. That's Tang Dynasty old school - and totally alien to Washington, where warriors are disposable and nobody stands up for a lady on the Metro anymore, and the Metro itself is more crash-prone than Lindsay Lohan.

"Is non-eschatological sculpture possible?" Leon asked, beginning a 23-minute monologue. "It's kismet, Maureen, that your knack for the aperçu now seems to put the burden of proof squarely on the enemies of the eschaton. So it is with Obama, who may grasp the symbolic uses of the martial and the banalities of diplomacy, but to whom the lessons of history remain a Rubik's cube of human destiny which he would never even seek to solve, and so must put on the shelf in a permanently semi-scrambled state abutting the ponderous unread volume of everything he does not know, not because he has not read it but because he will not know it. It takes an old soul like Judah Halevi - whom I was rereading again (a rare and delicate edition of The Kuzari on loan from Yale, discovered in the ruins of a Provence synagogue many years ago by a friend), as I tend to on cold midwinter nights next to glowing embers, a tumbler of Mortlach 1938 and a frayed yet vividly-dyed Afghan cozied around my stooped yet lithe frame, when the reality of evil in the world seems more implacable still than in the daylight and the will of the political system to confront it veers to comedy, the noisy slaps of a Three Stooges routine which being mere sound effects never truly bruised Larry, Curly or Shemp - to capture Obama's predicament in the world: the archly cool politesse of his dealings with Ahmadinejad and Hamas can only make us verklempt."

I was instantly transported. My patent leather shoes were clicking along the hallway tiles of my junior high in Northeast Washington, D.C., when I saw him for the first time.

He was leaning, the way bad boys do, against the radiator - which was turned off, because the nuns kept the school colder than Letterman's studio. ("Steam heat is the Devil's breath," my fifth-grade teacher Sister Rictrudis told me, menacingly flicking her ruler against her scapular, when I worked up the courage to ask about it.)

I sauntered by the radiator the next day at the same time, just after third period. My heart thrummed, my face flush with the ripeness of young womanhood. But he had been expelled. I never saw him again. (I heard he later joined the Irish mafia and disappeared running guns to Belfast.)

Turned out he was caught sneaking smokes just like our president does - giving the Rose Garden the musky air of a 1960s-era Catholic school boys room. And still, Michelle and Hillary let him get away with that too.

This post first appeared on my True/Slant blog.

 

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