Heads should roll -
President Obama's clumsy, smirky staff is sinking him -- and resurrecting a deflated
By Camille Paglia
March 11, 2009 | Free Barack!
Yes, free the president from his flacks, fixers and goons -- his posse of smirky smart alecks and provincial rubes, who were shrewd enough to beat the slow, pompous Clintons in the mano-a-mano primaries but who seem like dazed lost lambs in the brave new world of federal legislation and global statesmanship.
Heads should be rolling at the White House for the embarrassing series of flubs that have overshadowed President Obama's first seven weeks in office and given the scattered, demoralized Republicans a huge boost toward regrouping and resurrection. (Michelle, please use those fabulous toned arms to butt some heads!)
First it was that chaotic pig rut of a , which let House Democrats throw a thousand crazy kitchen sinks into what should have been a focused blueprint for economic recovery. Then it was the stunt of unnerving Wall Street by sending out a shrill duo of slick geeks ( and Peter Orszag) as the administration's weirdly adolescent spokesmen on economics. Who could ever have confidence in that sorry pair?
And then there was the fiasco of the ham-handed White House reception for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which was evidently lacking the most basic elements of ceremony and protocol. Don't they read the "Iliad" anymore in the Ivy League? Check that out for the all-important ritual of gift giving, which has cemented alliances around the world for 5,000 years.
President Obama -- in whom I still have great hope and confidence -- has been ill-served by his advisors and staff. Yes, they have all been blindsided and overwhelmed by the crushing demands of the presidency. But I continue to believe in citizen presidents, who must learn by doing, even in a perilous age of terrorism. Though every novice administration makes blunders and bloopers, its modus operandi should not be a conspiratorial reflex cynicism.
Case in point: The orchestrated attack on radio host , which has made the White House look like an oafish bunch of drunken frat boys. I returned from carnival in Brazil (more on that shortly) to find the Limbaugh affair in full flower. Has the administration gone mad? This entire fracas was set off by the president himself, who lowered his office by targeting a private citizen by name. Limbaugh had every right to counterattack, which he did with gusto. Why have so many Democrats abandoned the hallowed principle of free speech? Limbaugh, like our own liberal culture hero Lenny Bruce, is a professional commentator who can be as rude and crude as he wants.
Yes, I cringe when Rush plays his "Barack the Magic Negro" satire or when he gratuitously racializes the debate over Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is a constant subject of withering scrutiny for quite different reasons on sports shows here in Philadelphia. On the other hand, I totally agree with Rush about "feminazis," whose amoral tactics and myopic worldview I as a dissident feminist had to battle for decades. As a student of radio and a longtime listener of Rush's show, I have gotten a wealth of pleasure and insight from him over the years. To attack Rush Limbaugh is to attack his audience -- and to intensify the loyalty of his fan base.
If Rush's presence looms too large for the political landscape, it's because of the total vacuity of the Republican leadership, which seems to be in a dithering funk. Rush isn't responsible for the feebleness of Republican voices or the thinness of Republican ideas. Only ignoramuses believe that Rush speaks for the Republican Party. On the contrary, Rush as a proponent of heartland conservatism has waged open warfare with the Washington party establishment for years.
And I'm sick of people impugning Rush's wealth and lifestyle, which is no different from that of another virtuoso broadcaster who hit it big -- Oprah Winfrey. Rush Limbaugh is an embodiment of the American dream: He slowly rose from obscurity to fame on the basis of his own talent and grit. Every penny Rush has earned was the result of his rapport with a vast audience who felt shut out and silenced by the liberal monopoly of major media. As a Democrat and Obama supporter, I certainly do not agree with everything Rush says or does. I was deeply upset, for example, by the sneering tone both Rush and Sean Hannity took on , when partisan politics should have been set aside for a unifying celebration of American government and history. Nevertheless, I respect Rush for his independence of thought and his always provocative news analysis. He doesn't run with the elite -- he goes his own way.
President Obama should yank the reins and get his staff's noses out of slash-and-burn petty politics. His own dignity and prestige are on the line. If he wants a second term, he needs to project a calmer perspective about the eternal reality of vociferous opposition, which is built into our democratic system. Right now, the White House is starting to look like Raphael's scathing portrait of a pampered, passive Pope Leo X and his materialistic cardinals -- one of the first examples of an artist sending a secret, sardonic message to posterity. Do those shifty, beady-eyed guys needing a shave remind you of anyone? Yes, it's bare-knuckles Chicago pugilism, transplanted to Washington. The charitably well-meaning but hopelessly extravagant Leo X, by the way, managed to mishandle the birth of the Protestant Reformation, which permanently split Christianity.