“This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
— Barack Obama, nomination speech, St. Paul, Minn., June 3, 2008
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
— excerpted from “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
On Aug. 28, 2008, presidential candidate and messianic wannabe Barack Obama took the stage at Denver's Invesco Field in front of thousands of adoring fans. In a weirdly ostentatious framing of Greek columns and pilasters to decree his intentions to fundamentally transform the world amid a storm of disaffection with George Bush, weariness of war, a lackluster McCain campaign and an economy in free-fall.
Admirers cheered, women swooned, media pundits and journalists pronounced him the savior of America and of the world while the deitylike echo ordered by the campaign producers reverberated. Hailed as a redeemer, his negligible political experience and enigmatic background were summarily dismissed while those of his opponent, Sen. John McCain and especially Sarah Palin, were fiercely examined and ridiculed in shameless displays of journalistic favoritism.
Even Los Angeles Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorn submitted to his own leg-tingling adoration, writing the day following the speech that when Obama declared, “America, we cannot turn back,” he found himself “thinking about those columns … about how they were employed primarily to suggest time rolling backward all the way to the Greeks,” so caught up was in exaltation he failed to realize his own contradiction of the anointed one's words.
After the election the Greek associations continued, with President Obama actually compared to Alexander the Great by Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the American Greek Orthodox Church, who hailed him as the conquering hero and predictive resolver of religious and cultural disputes following his triumphant defeat of the “McCaininites.” Newsweek magazine Editor Evan Thomas went a bizarre step further, proclaiming with a divine reverence in borderline violation of church and state separation that: “In a way Obama is standing above the country, above the world. He's sort of god. He's going to bring all different sides together.” The Nobel committee bowed down and cemented the president's overblown self-esteem with its prognostic awarding of a peace prize with no foreign policy accomplishments.
Time has now twisted these connections in ways the sycophants never anticipated. While today's America is startlingly similar and dangling on the same economic and cultural precipice as ancient Greece, including a leader who believes in his own divinity, there are eerie similarities with the ongoing battles between congressional Democrats and Republicans that echo those similar disputes of the democratic Athenians and conservative Spartans — archenemies based on political differences, economic policy and competing fears of terrorist aggressions, then known as piracy.
Because of ongoing war and political in-fighting the most powerful civilization on earth eventually crumbled. The quality of life declined as a result of the warfare (“record poverty”); economic conditions worsened (“higher jobless rates”) and violent clashes between rich and poor became more frequent (“expiration of tax cuts to the wealthy”). People grew less public-spirited and more self-centered as taxes increased, and the city-states lost their vitality (“fiscal solvency”). The unwillingness of the Greeks to unite would be the major cause for their decline.
Having more in common with the egotistical indulgences of the Greek tyrant Pisistratus than the great warrior Alexander, Obama helplessly watches this political and cultural turmoil raging around him through the detached eyes of a clueless leader with no leadership experience and with an almost comically inflated level of preening narcissism.
Headstrong public figures like the president, made tone-deaf by their own fawning publicity, see themselves above the sacrifice they commend to others. They neither welcome critics nor tolerate their admonishments. When they assign their meager victories to their own brilliance and expect it to continue, gods-to-be set themselves up for a fall far more precipitous than those of the mere mortals under their deific patronage. Thus an approval rating that continues to plummet while affection deteriorates.
Like those elitist and self-wallowing appointed leaders of the ancient world, the president and first lady also see fit to remind all citizens to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the city-states and the general welfare of the country yet are unable and unwilling to set an example by doing the same. Glitzy retreats to exotic Spanish beaches and multiple vacations, parties and golf games after informing the citizenry to tighten their belts confirm the ruling-class leadership's unwillingness to bend ideologically, abide by their own laws or listen to the will, hopes and fears of the American people.
The pre-election iconic toadying and the Nobel Peace prize itself, like the empty and crumbling ruins of ancient Greece and those regal tatters portrayed in Shelley's classic poem, already stand as testaments to failed expectations; paper Burger King crowns laughed away even by late-night comedians. The plywood and cardboard Greek columns, as Sarah Palin predicted at her nomination, have been forgotten and stashed away in some Hollywood back lot. And like the Greek leader Nicomedes III, Obama faces multiple downfalls first by a disenchanted electorate, followed by November midterms then ultimately in the 2012 elections.
“... nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” S
Dale Brumfield is a payroll services broker and writer who lives in Doswell.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.