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It is now obvious that Obama is all gaffe and guff. But the central question that troubles the mind is more profound. Why is it that, despite his larger-than-life media prominence and his appearing wherever we happen to look, he never seems to be there? As he himself wrote in The Audacity of Hope—assuming he is the author of the entire book and not, as Jack Cashill thinks, beholden to speechwriter Jon Favreau—“I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Amir Taheri, writing in the New York Post, is distressed by Obama’s fluctuating and elusive nature. Commenting on Obama’s casting himself as a bridge between America and the Muslim world (Al-Arabiya TV, January 27, 2009), Taheri notes: “Obama appeared unsure of his own identity and confused about the role that America should play in global politics.”
In point of fact, Obama seems unsure of pretty well everything of importance, just as many of us have grown unsure about whether there is any substance at all behind the luminous façade thrust before us on screen or page or color supplement. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who developed the philosophical theory of the simulacrum in such books as Simulacra and Simulation and Simulations, defines one of its aspects as an image whose function is to mask the absence of a basic reality, to hide a vacancy. “It is no longer even a question of a false representation,” he writes, “but of concealing the truth that the real is no longer real.” In the mediatric age we now live in, we are steadily bombarded by “floating signifiers” that attach to nothing concrete. Baudrillard cites many examples of public and political hallucinations to which we are subject, which he labels “the precession of the simulacra,” but Obama is clearly the culmination of the process. He seems more like a collective hypothesis, an effigy permeable to the light, than a real person.
Studying the phenomenon of a simulated president, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish character from rhetoric, being from seeming, the man from the teleprompter. Indeed, we can take the question further. Is Obama real? Or is he the virtual creation of a group of spectral manipulators, of David Axelrod, George Soros, Bill Ayers and other tenebrous figures, who have combined their talents and resources to seize upon a mediocre legislator with no achievements to his credit and craft a glittering ectoplasm from pliable material in order to serve their political purposes—to produce, in effect, what Gibson calls a “consensual fantasy”? Is he merely, in Gibson’s terms, nothing but, “a personality-construct, a congeries of software agents, the creation of information-designers”? A Loki-like shape-shifter? A kind of synthespian?
It is hard to resist the conclusion that, for all the bewilderment he sows and the undeniable harm he does, Barack Obama does not exist. An idoru sits in the Oval Office and the only transparency he has brought to American politics is that we can see right through him.
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