In one of the most memorable scenes in War and Peace, Count Nikolai Rostov (a cavalry officer in the Czar’s army) has fallen on the battlefield and sees enemy French soldiers running in his direction, whereupon he thinks to himself: “Can they be running to me? And what for? To kill me? Me, whom everyone’s so fond of?”
I fear that our President is more than passing similar to Rostov. He has worked hard to avoid being a “scary black man,” and was, moreover, much loved. Still is, in fact. But not by the Republicans, most of whom might not want to kill him, but who definitely don’t love him. Some of them aren’t his enemies, but nearly all are his opponents; when they run to him, it’s not to help him back on his horse.
Let me be clear: I am a serious, committed Obama supporter, admirer, even at times, adorer. His election was one of the greatest moments in my political life, and, I believe, in that of the United States. I worked hard on behalf of the man. I gave money—more than I’ve ever given before in a political campaign—to help elect the MAN. I donated time and energy to the campaign of THE MAN. But I fear that what I’ve gotten, what we’ve all gotten, is the wimp. The Rostov.
Obama needs to know (how can he not know?) that when it comes to the Tea Partiers and even the mainstream Republicans (is there any difference these days?) he isn’t involved in a collegial seminar seeking to illuminate the truth, or a shared struggle to arrive at acceptable and reasonable compromises, but rather, he’s in a fight. A struggle. A battle. No holds barred, no quarter given, no Marquis of Queensbury rules. If he wants to be loved, he should look to his family or to his “over-the-moon” supporters (including me, still), and if he wants a friend, then he should follow Harry Truman’s famous advice and get a dog … OK, get another one if need be. But he should be under no illusions: Nikolai Rostov was popular, admired, even fawned upon within his family, but NOT by the French.
Obama is neither popular, admired, nor fawned upon by the supposedly loyal opposition, instead, he is loathed, detested and (increasingly) insulted by those who not only do not wish him well (Limbaugh: “I hope Obama fails”; McConnell: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”), but who, I strongly suspect, don’t wish the country well either. With each passing day, it is increasingly evident, instead, that they are invested in inflicting maximum economic distress and pain, in the twisted hope that this will increase their own electoral prospects.
They are a kind of political Fifth Column, named after the Spanish Fascists who infested Madrid from within while Franco’s four generals attacked from the outside. And indeed, the current disloyal opposition meets most of the criteria for genuine neo-Fascists: flagrant religiosity, a romanticized yearning for a mythologized golden past, strong support for large corporate interests, a fondness for violence and a stunning disdain for the truth. Also, an obvious disdain for Obama himself, who, Rostov-like, can’t seem to wrap his genteel mind around the fact that unlike Sally Fields—who marveled with appealing naivety at her Oscar acceptance “You really like me!”—his political opponents not only don’t love him, or even like him, but they won’t be won over by appeals to reason, justice, shared values, even patriotism.
I’m looking forward (albeit apprehensively) to the President’s forthcoming address to Congress and the nation, in advance of which there has been much debate about whether he will “go big” or “small.” Whatever he chooses, I hope he goes tough and stays tough, disavowing any illusions of bonhommie, and in the process banishing any parallels with Count Rostov.