I’m So Cool, I Don’t Even Need A Country

Mark Steyn, on the incredible antics of Michael Ignatieff:

Anyway, a couple of years back, Michael Ignatieff, a professor at Harvard and previously a BBC late-night intellectual telly host, returned to his native land of Canada in order to become prime minister, and to that end got himself elected as leader of the Liberal party. And, as is the fashion nowadays, he cranked out a quickie tome laying out his political “vision.” Having spent his entire adult life abroad, he was aware that some of the natives were uncertain about his commitment to the land of his birth. So he was careful to issue a sort of pledge of a kind of allegiance, explaining that writing a book about Canada had “deepened my attachment to the place on earth that, if I needed one, I would call home.”

Gee, that’s awfully big of you. As John Robson commented in the Ottawa Citizen: “I’m worried that a man so postmodern he doesn’t need a home wants to lead my country. Why? Is it quaint? An interesting sociological experiment?”

“And so, dear voters, having expressed my unbearable coolness to you, don’t you want to vote for me? After all, I don’t really give much of a rip about your country, but face it. You would be awfully lucky to have me. ”

And Steyn thinks this reminds him of someone else he knows.

Many Americans are beginning to pick up the strange vibe that, for Barack Obama, governing America is “an interesting sociological experiment,” too. He would doubtless agree that the United States is “the place on earth that, if I needed one, I would call home.” But he doesn’t, not really: It is hard to imagine Obama wandering along to watch a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade until the job required him to. That’s not to say he’s un-American or anti-American, but merely that he’s beyond all that. Way beyond. He’s the first president to give off the pronounced whiff that he’s condescending to the job — that it’s really too small for him and he’s just killing time until something more commensurate with his stature comes along.

Well, yes, you can see what he’s getting at. Today, to be an educated citizen of a mature Western democracy — Canada or Germany, England or Sweden — is not to feel Canadian or German, English or Swedish, heaven forbid, but rather to regard oneself as a citoyen du monde. Obviously, if being “more Canadian” requires one literally to be a Harvard professor or a BBC TV host or an essayist for the Guardian, then very few actual Canadians would pass the test. What he really means is that in a post-national, post-modern Western world, the definition of “Canadian” (and Dutch and Belgian and Irish) is how multicultural and globalized you feel. The U.N., Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Bono: these are the colors a progressive, worldly Westerner nails to his mast. You don’t need to go anywhere, or do anything: You just need to pick up the general groove, which you can do very easily at almost any college campus.

This Barack Obama did brilliantly. A man who speaks fewer languages than the famously moronic George W. Bush, he has nevertheless grasped the essential lingo of the European transnationalist: Continental leaders strike attitudes rather than effect action — which is frankly beneath them. One thinks of the insistence a few years ago by Louis Michel, then Belgian foreign minister, that the so-called European Rapid Reaction Force “must declare itself operational without such a declaration being based on any true capability.” As even the Washington Post drily remarked, “Apparently in Europe this works.”

Apparently. Thus, Barack Obama: He declared himself operational without such a declaration being based on any true capability. But, if it works for the EU, why not America? Like many of his background here and there, Obama is engaged mostly by abstractions and generalities. Indeed, he is the very model of a modern major generalist. He has grand plans for “the environment” — all of it, wherever it may be. Why should the great eco-Gulliver be ensnared by some Lilliputian oil spill lapping round his boots? He flew in to Cairo to give one of the most historically historic speeches in history to the Muslim world. Why should such a colossus lower his visionary gaze to contemplate some no-account nickel-’n’-dime racket like the Iranian nuclear program? With one stroke of his pen, he has transformed the health care of 300 million people. But I suppose if there’s some killer flu epidemic or a cholera outbreak in New Mexico, you losers will be whining at Obama to do something about that, too.

You see, you don’t get it. Obama’s job is not to stop the leak and make sure government is effective. His job is to set the tone. His job is to provide an over-arching theory according to which the leak may be plugged. Or not plugged, as the case may be. His job is to point. He points you in the right direction, and then someone else has to do the actual work of getting things done. He’s a pointer.

In recent months, a lot of Americans have said to me that they had no idea the new president would feel so “weird.” But, in fact, he’s not weird. True, he’s not, even in Democratic terms, a political figure — as, say, Clinton or Biden are. Instead, he’s the product of the broader culture: There are millions of people like Barack Obama, the eternal students of a vast lethargic transnational campus for whom global compassion and the multicultural pose are merely the modish gloss on a cult of radical grandiose narcissism. As someone once said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” When you’ve spent that long waiting in line for yourself, it’s bound to be a disappointment.

 

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