In Plato’s Republic Socrates argues for censoring poets and “men of a baser sort” who deign to misrepresent the gods as “praying and beseeching” sissy boys. After all, if youth were led to believe that society’s mythological all-stars were “no better than men,” it would doom the proposed state to be led by an elite vanguard.
The authors of two recent children’s picture books detailing the life Barack Obama have taken this classical Greek advice to heart, turning Hillary Clinton’s classic mockery — “Celestial choruses will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect” — into the straight-faced official biography for the four to seven year-old set.
Here, for example, is how Jonah Winter, striking a tone in BARACK somewhere between Vladimir Lenin and action movie preview narrator, translates the presidential race for America’s impressionable babes:
[O]n the horizon, at the dawn of a new age, there appeared a man who would be the embodiment of King’s dream — a presidential candidate whose very being was a bridge that joined nations.
Not to be outdone, Nikki Grimes’ Son of Promise, Child of Hope describes the early years of Barack, “his mama, white as whipped cream; his daddy, black as ink,” thusly:
He was there in Chicago because he cared about these people. They were his family. People in Kenya were his family. Indonesians were his family. And no matter where he was, the world was his home. And who he was could be summed up in one word: loveable.
Well, at least she doesn’t say Messiah.
Now, neither Grimes nor Winter’s books may be, as Bill Clinton would have it, “the biggest fairy tale” you’ve ever seen — recall Atlas, the collected work of The Brothers Grimm, Howard the Duck. And electoral foes eagerly awaiting an illustrated version of Obama Nation should consider a regimen of aromatherapy and a brief hiatus from the Free Republic message boards.
It is nevertheless telling that in picture books purportedly designed to teach children about Obama’s life ample room is found for grand explication of his Holy Ghost-like omniscient global citizenship and the transubstantiation of his “very being” into a “bridge that joined nations” (past tense?) but no space for any earth-bound facts of his remarkable rise, which even his most diehard fans would presumably (hopefully?) acknowledge as corporeal in nature.
Alas, the frantic haste with which Obama’s supporters have sought to cast him as the Nanny State übermensch — so flawless, so supremely well-equipped to seize the nation back from evil Republican mole-men that he can reduce upper middle class white women to tears faster than Oprah — reveals a latent insecurity regarding the actuality of Obama and his qualifications, never mind the cognitive dissonance of trumpeting a candidate as preternaturally singular while simultaneously accusing anyone who dares question the transcendental specimen’s Everyman status of xenophobia, of racism, of an invidious invocation of The Other.
The apocryphal Barack Obama of these books may as well have chosen Harry Potter as his running mate. (Imagine how that would have energized the prized Youth Vote!) Yet clearly, his supporters believe, like Plato, that there is intrinsic worth in creating and maintaining a mythology: It’s an aggregation of power that deflects questions from mere mortal dissenters. (Hey buddy, when was the last time your very being was a bridge between nations?) Whatever the We are the ones we’ve been waiting for — cough, cough — to elect me, rhetoric, idolatry also demands an unusual and slavish devotion not usually accorded to human beings from followers.
What’s not for a politician to love?
TO THIS END OF MYTH CREATION, the ambassadors of Barack Obama’s unofficial Department of Early Indoctrination appear to be aping, consciously or otherwise, the precepts of The Hero With a Thousand Faces — the New Agey philosophical treatise famously used by George Lucas to bring structure to the Star Wars mythology.
In this influential tome Joseph Campbell laid out the “standard path” of the archetypal hero, who amidst varying scenery and settings invariably “ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” This hero’s visions, ideas, and inspirations are “eloquent, not of the present, disintegrating society and psyche, but of the unquenched source through which society is reborn.”
Sound familiar? Consider the following cross-sample of the Obama picture books and Campbell’s hero checkpoints:
The Call to Adventure
Son of Promise tells us of Barry’s adventures in the “wonderland” of Indonesia, where he “caught crickets, flew kites, and joyed in the jungle at the edge of his new home — a perfect paradise until the sight of beggars broke his heart.” Like Perseus, Jason and every last Argonaut before him, child Obama glimpses his own righteous destiny in this unremarkable experience: “Barry started to wonder, Will I ever be able to help people like these? Hope hummed deep inside of him. Someday, son. Someday.”
Refusal of the Call
Here, for fairly obvious reasons, neither author goes into pot, booze, or “maybe a little blow when you could afford it,” even if, “not smack, though,” might be a worthwhile message for today’s whippersnappers who aspire to master the ocean tides.
The capitalized, personified Hope in Son of Promise may have only “hummed deep inside” Obama in Indonesia, but it becomes more vocal:
When Barack wasn’t studying he liked to jog along the Hudson River. He couldn’t help but notice the river of hurt and hate and history that separated blacks and whites. Being both, he could not take sides. Don’t worry, said Hope. I will be your bridge. In time you will be the bridge for others.
That’s right, kids, delusions of grandeur are totally cool if the voices in your head sign off on them. (Also, don’t let anyone tell you jogging alongside a river of hurt and hate and history isn’t a relaxing and invigorating study break…?) So, where does one go to learn to be a bridge? Why, Trinity Church in Chicago, of course. Grimes, again:
When his classes came to an end, he raced to Chicago to join hands with the church, to learn new lessons: Not how to be black or white, but how to be a healer, how to change things, how to make a difference in the world.
Other lessons under the venerable Rev. Wright: The “United States of KKK” invention of AIDS “as a means of genocide against people of color”; Bill Clinton “Riding Dirty,” i.e. doing blacks “just like he did Monica Lewinsky”; and Racism 101—”how this country was founded and how this country is still run.” None of these topics made the kiddie-book cut, but you can imagine how tough this stuff would be to illustrate for four year-olds.
BARACK also has a page devoted to Trinity:
[T]here, swept up in the waves of their singing, with tears on his cheeks, [Obama] knew why he was there. He knew who he was and he knew where he belonged.
Right, right: He was there for political capital and street cred, and he belonged there until it became a drag on his presidential campaign. Talking prescient Indonesian cricket or no, Barack knows these things.
The Crossing of the First Threshold
He arrived here during a dark time in American history. All across America, people were losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing their sense of hope. Many people were tired of a war that had gone on too long. They were tired of fighting with their neighbors over politics. They were just tired.
And, so, Barack came to Elko, Nevada, and told the people the secret to ending fights over politics: “I want you to argue with them and get in their face.” Seek peace through unconditional surrender…and then take a nap.
The Road of Trial
From Son of Promise:
The work was grueling, with stretches of failure, and puny patches of success. Door-to-door Barack went, early mornings, late nights, pleading and preaching, coaxing strangers to march together, to make life better for everyone. He worked hard as a farmer, planting the words “Yes, we can!” like seeds in spring.
Woman as the Temptress
Again, not addressed directly, but even toddlers could not have failed to hear the story of how Obama’s “You’re likable enough” remark gave New Hampshire racists the cover they needed to deny him his rightful victory?
Atonement with the Father
From Son of Promise:
Before Barack chased his future, he visited his past, traveling to Kenya to find his family, his father’s bones, and his own place in the circle of Africa…Finally, Barack knelt in the soil at his father’s grave, listening to the still, small voice that spoke to his heart: Go now. Fly free. Become the man you were meant to be. Live in hope.
From Son of Promise:
Hope may be slim and beautiful, but she is no weak thing…[Barack] proved it again when all of Washington, D.C., wondered what this skinny kid with the funny name could offer a nation in need. But the hope that lived in Barack burned bright, and on the night he became a senator, everybody felt the flame.
The Ultimate Boon
Here was a man who spoke of “hope” and “change,” whose strong words lifted up the downhearted people and made them believe that the world was not beyond repair.
And Son of Promise:
One sun-drenched day, as his wife Michelle stood by, Barack smiled on a sea of faces from Wichita to Waikiki. He saw whites and blacks, rich and poor, Christians and Muslims and Jews; he saw the ghosts of his parents, of Gramps and Toot, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK. And on that special day Barack was the bridge that held them all together. “I want to be your president,” he said. “Can we make America better? Can we work together, as one?” With a single voice the crowd called out, “Yes! We can!”
YOU COULD NOT ASK FOR a more heroic portrayal than Homer’s of Achilles in The Iliad. Plato groused about it anyway. He thought Achilles’ mourning of fallen soldiers was undignified. The subjective becomes the unquestionable for the devotee of The Myth. As Edith Hamilton wrote in her classic survey Mythology, mankind’s “chief hope of escaping the wrath” of a divinity-imbued myth lay not in logic or empiricism, but “in some magical rite, senseless but powerful, or in some offering made at the cost of pain and grief.” These, frankly, will not be very useful tools for those of us looking to retain individual rights in the face of collectivist fervor.
It is no real surprise that immediately after passionately demanding societal subjugation to the official storyline, Plato’s very next proclamation is that for the “public good” — an appellation as subjective as it gets — “if anyone at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons.” (Side note: Republic does not deal directly with the relative merits of the Fairness Doctrine.) Once the head of state is presumed to transcend the temporal plane, the need-to-know of those populating the temporal plane is significantly reduced. The natural outcome of indoctrinating children in the mythology of presidential-candidate-as-supernatural-savior is to train them to believe wielding anything less than complete power becomes too ordinary, a life of little consequence.
At the end of Son of Promise a young boy growing up in — sigh, of course, tenement housing decides he, too, wants to be a transformational president. Is there nothing else worth seeking? Is the world now divided between cult-like worker bees attempting to elect a president and a queen bee or two actually becoming president?