Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tikkun for a ride

Can't seem to get away from this speech of Romney's, where he is castigating Obama for his grandiose promises:
“I’ve been watching some clips of President Obama, then candidate Obama, when he was going across Iowa four years ago,” Romney said. “And the promises were just non-stop of all the great thing [sic*] he was going to do: heal the nation, bring us together, repair the nation and repair the world.”
Which is of course not an accurate report of promises that the president made, but you knew that already. What's important about what Romney says--unless he really does have some fascinating brain ailment, which I don't really believe--is what he is trying to do with language, the effect he is trying to make, and here it's that phrase "repair the world".

If I understand it correctly, what Romney is up to now is pretty bizarre, and probably a good deal more evil than we have imagined, as detailed below the fold...
*This is particularly weird in its own right--as far as Dr. Google and I can figure, every single source in the whole world that quotes this has the same error except for one rush transcript from CNN--and not one either says anything snarky (like about how hypnotized our royal-court stenographers are) or silently corrects it. Does it mean something?

I'm sure that lots of people besides me, like the Kossack commenters to the source linked above, or the great Steve Benen, have recalled that "repairing the world" has a particular meaning and resonance; that it is the normal translation for Hebrew tikkun olam, the obligation of every Jew to make a positive response to what you might call the Melville problem:
Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending. 
It's not anything like the first time Obama has been associated with Jewishness; indeed, only a couple of days before the Romney speech, on New Year's Eve, Rabbi Steven Bob published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post calling him the "tikkun olam president"--
It’s refreshing how genuinely and naturally our president relates to the Jewish community. He mentions by name responsibilities like tikkun olam, the Jewish tradition of working to repair the world, and then talks from the heart about his belief in the same. He discusses the concept of “hineini” – “Here I am” – not only because he thinks giving an unexpected d’var Torah makes for a good speech, but because he subscribes to the values those prophetic words represent.
And last September, John Heilemann in New York Magazine famously suggested that Obama is actually our "first Jewish president". Heilemann, of course, is mainly trying to clarify to the world that Obama is a fervent supporter of Israel and that Binyamin Netanyahu is a schmuck. But the idea of Obama as Jewish president goes back much further than that: to Abner Mikva and the 2008 campaign.

I agree that there is something Jewish about Obama in the way there was something African-American about Bill Clinton (Toni Morrison, 1998). With Clinton it was that smooth, charmed way of letting you know that he knew when there was jive in the air, coming out of someone else's lips or his own, and then the extraordinary way he was mistreated--boy'd and uppity'd, regarded as a rapacious rapist and a hamburger glutton, and, as David Broder remarked to Sally Quinn, no doubt over cocktails in Georgetown or NW, "He came in here and he trashed the place and it's not his place..." Clarence Thomas may have thought he was the victim of a high-tech lynching but Bill Clinton was subjected to an oh-so-civilized one of pursed lips and sidelong glances, and of course nobody really got hurt (except for all the victims of poverty and injustice and no health insurance that suffered when his programs crashed on the rock of the White Southern Republican party under the so-called leadership of... that putz is back running for something???--I can't help it, I'm still really angry about this!).**
With Obama, it's the irony--whether he's in a tux delivering a comedy routine (for which he may have written a couple of his own jokes!) or wearing a baseball cap on the golf course looking around him in bemusement, and the self-questioning--he thinks he's the only one smart enough to do it, of course. And it is also the mode in which he is discriminated against: not, like Clinton, as nothing more than a big id, but rather as some kind of terrifying superego, the chief Illuminatus of who knows what kind of conspiracy of everybody from bankers to Communists, or going back to Romney, at another rally yesterday,
"I think president Obama wants to make us a European style welfare state, where instead of being a merit society we're an entitlement society, where government's role is to take from some and give to others," Romney told the crowd.
"What I know is if they do that, they'll substitute envy for ambition, and they'll poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God," Romney said, leveling rhetoric at the president that he had not used before.
 Obama the hater of America, Obama the secret socialist, Obama the Rootless Cosmopolitan! When Romney hints at a Jewish Obama, you see, a would-be repairer of the world, he's not talking to you and me, but to those who are prepared to believe in this ugly old story... I'm halfway serious here, you know...

**And yes, I know that Clinton did some very bad things, of which the least forgivable to my mind is maybe the smallest, the despicable execution of Ricky Ray Rector, remembered for being such an innocent in the broad sense that he saved the dessert from his last meal "for later". I have mentioned this problem--the intrinsic wickedness of all politicians, even the ones we love--before, and I hope to begin working through it in another post.

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