When the hermetic, perfect world created in 2008 came into being, the Lightbringer at its center was protected from the moment of his nomination in a kind of numinous cloud of cultural, media and elite opinion protection.
Jokes about Obama, well...they just weren't funny. “It’s hard to make fun of Obama in general because he’s a cool character," said Jimmy Kimmel. Noah Rothman called it "Obama’s prohibitive coolness."
Criticism of his policies and politics were obviously racist in nature...what other explanation could possibly obtain? Mockery of his pomposity, his flagrant sense of personal grandeur, his Administration-as-personality-cult was a product of Republican sour grapes (and, duh, racism).
Even the mild comedic hits on Obama in popular culture were anodyne, bloodless things and mostly along the themes of his coolness, his intellect, his perfection. He was the straight man to the GOP foil. He was the cool kid in the room full of conservative dorks. One famous incident of self-editing to protect the image of President Cool was a spiked SNL skit.
What strikes me about the New Yorker cover is that it not only clearly takes Obama down several pegs, but references the Eastwood moment of the RNC convention, which we were assured by our betters for several weeks was a disaster for the Romney campaign. Think about it: the New Yorker is mocking Barack Obama using an image from a gag from the Republican National Convention.
It's a singularity of irony, they just don't know it.
The cracks in the Acela Corridor's Barack Protection Protocol are showing because Obama's most compelling attribute was the belief that his intellectual prowess is unmatched by any President, perhaps any mortal. A cornerstone of their faith in him was always that Barack Obama's intellectual firepower could be deployed at will, and destroy Mitt Romney at a time and place of the President's choosing.
What they saw Wednesday night wasn't the demigod they've protected like so many cultural Myrmidons, but a stammering, detached, utterly outclassed man hoisted on the petard of his own laziness and incuriousity. The damage to their perception of him isn't enough to draw them to Romney, but in their post-modern, super-ironic world, the moment Obama showed weakness, he became a legitimate target.
The cover of the New Yorker -- one of the tentpoles of respectable liberalism and elite opinion -- is a signifier of the scope of Obama's failure this week.
As the dozens of snarky articles, brutal editorial cartoons, late night comedy shows taking new and unaccustomed shots at Obama (I'm not counting Chris Matthews and his epic rant) build up a certain cultural momentum, the sense that Obama's failings are suddenly funny is a deadly virus in the bloodstream of liberal opinion.
Barack Obama is a man of abundantly evident self-regard. The growing sound of mockery and derision must be painful to him, especially coming from the unexpected quarters of his erstwhile allies. Once the mockery starts, it's hard to stop. Ask Bill Clinton.
The clues of an Obama meltdown in high-, low- and even pop-culture tell me that the next debates for Obama aren't just consequential: they're existential.
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