Wow. From the looks of the WaPo op-ed page, some of the town's conservative pontificators are still sucking on some seriously sour grapes. Krauthammer's column, if you read all the way to the end, actually kinda, sorta compliments Obama for giving a post-racial inaugural address. But to get to that grudging praise, one must slog through the first two-thirds of Krauthammer's exceedingly grumpy trashing of Obama's "dour," thudding speech, in which he somehow even manages to fault the new POTUS for not being the eternally needy adulation slut that Bill Clinton was.
Of course, I expect nothing more from Krauthammer, who, to be fair, must have been under tremendous strain in recent years as he valiantly maintained an unwavering, snarling defense of an often indefensible Bush administration.
I'm a little more surprised, however, by Mike Gerson's snarky column. The bulk of the piece is unremarkable: Gerson is thrilled by the racially themed "Obamamania" on display this week but disgusted by the foul scent of cultural condescension he smells swirling all around him. Fair enough. But before he can get to these basic points, Gerson leads off with a series of counterfactual "what ifs" that aren't just childish and petulant but intentionally obtuse:
If the outcome had been different in November, would John McCain's inaugural coverage have been quite as worshipful as President Obama's--during which the "shiver" up the leg of journalists finally became full-fledged convulsions? Why were the biblical references in Obama's inaugural speech not considered a coded assault on the Constitution, as George W. Bush's were sometimes viewed? And I can only imagine the cascades of hilarity and derision that would have come had Bush messed up the inaugural oath, no matter the cause.
Good grief. Gerson is a smart guy. There's no way in hell he doesn't know the obvious answers to every one of these absurdly loaded "questions." But since he apparently wants to raise the issues among other, perhaps less piercing intellects, allow me to address his huffy concerns.
Of course the coverage of McCain wouldn't have been so giddy--and not because journalists are all closet lefties. The coverage of Obama was over-the-top for many of the same reasons that the public reaction to Obama was over-the-top. The man is cultural phenom, a rock star, the rare political leader who oozes charisma and optimism and a certain cool reassurance. He comes across as young, fresh, glamorous, hip, and attractive in a goofy, gangly, quasi-nerdy sort of way. Plus...once more with feeling!...he's our first black president and, as such, his fricking inauguration was a major historic event watched 'round the globe. Now, maybe Gerson bought into all of the GOP hoo-ha about how it would also have been historic for McCain to be elected (gasp!) the oldest president ever. But I doubt it. No one is that clueless.
As for Obama's biblical references, of course they didn't generate the same uneasy reaction as when Bush got scriptural because the Democratic party hasn't sold its soul the religious right in recent years. Obama can talk more freely about God, because people aren't seriously concerned that he's going to ram the Almighty down their throats with faith-over-science policies like abstinence based education, stem-cell research bans, international abortion gag-rules, Terri Schiavo-type nanny-state intrusiveness...well, you get the idea, right, Mike? But don't feel too persecuted on behalf of your former boss: It's not like anyone is giving Obama a free ride. His outreach to the anti-gay-rights bigot Rick Warren didn't exactly go unremarked on now did it?
Finally, the matter of the botched oath. Despite the fact that Justice Roberts was at least as much to blame as Obama, Gerson is correct in assuming that Bush would have suffered hard-core ribbing if he had similarly stumbled. Why? Because W. is famously inarticulate while Obama is slammed for, if anything, being too much of a smooth talker. You understand the whole tendency of jokes and parodies having more punch when they touch on a preexisting perception, right, MIke? You get that.
Super. Now that everyone's vented his spleen, maybe we can all move past our puzzlement over the inaugural display and start looking ahead to the mountain of troubles that the new administration must tackle. Hopefully, Krauthammer and Gerson--both of whom pride themselves on being deep, serious thinkers--will manage to be slightly less churlish going forward. (Though, again, today's grousing should probably be regarded as a step forward for Krauthammer.) Obama could certainly use some constructive input from the right. And it doesn't seem fair to expect George Will to do all the heavy lifting.