The myth of The One
posted at 8:35 am on July 31, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
I have to admit, I enjoyed David Montgomery’s riff on Barack Obama, The Matrix, and Star Wars — especially the really bad recent trilogy — in today’s Washington Post. Taking a cue from staffers on John McCain’s campaign who have taken to calling Obama “The One”, Montgomery gives us a series of flashbacks to these movies to see how well being The One has worked out, as well as in real life:
It’s a smart bit of political jujitsu by the McCainiacs. Try to turn an opponent’s potential strength into a potential weakness. Have they concluded their guy may become the next president, but he’ll never be the One?
There have been so many Ones. The human imagination seems inclined to think in terms of them: King Arthur, Superman, Anakin Skywalker (or Luke, depending on your cosmology), Bobby Kennedy, John Galt, the Who’s Tommy, Frodo, Bob Dylan, Siegfried, Harry Potter, Mighty Mouse, Godot, Joe Gibbs, Storm, Wonder Woman.
The One is the one who has the Answer. He will fix a fallen world. He will bring … change we can believe in.
The One is usually young, and he speaks inspiringly. A second coming is nice but not always advisable. (See Gibbs, Joe.)
Being the One means passing lots of tests, because at first no one believes in you. King Arthur had to pull Excalibur out of the stone to prove he was the One. Being the One means being tempted by your dark side. Anakin Skywalker succumbed — the One can be fallible, if not always human — transmogrified into Darth Vader, and only at the end managed to sort of live up to Obi-Wan’s anguished declaration: “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would … bring balance to the Force!”
Montgomery has this all wrong. Bill “Tuna” Parcells is The One, not Joe Gibbs. Oh, sure, Washington thought Gibbs was The One, but that shows how being in the same town with Congress for so long can screw up your judgment. (They thought Heath Shuler was The One, too, and he’s now in Congress. It’s almost a Zen thing.)
But Montgomery gets to the heart of Obamania this cycle. We have a candidate with no executive experience, no military experience, no foreign policy experience, and only three years in the Senate — and yet a major political party passed over several more qualified people to nominate him for the Presidency. Why? What long string of legislative accomplishment has lifted him to these heights? None; in fact, his legislative track record in the Senate is shorter than his tenure, not uncommon for freshmen in the upper chamber. His track record in Illinois is mostly remarkable for the scores of abstentions he submitted instead of actual positions. And on the most important decision on the war in the past two years, he got it flat-out wrong — and refuses to admit it.
But that goes along with being The One. The One cannot admit error. The One has to remain a perfect vessel for our redemption, and like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, so flexible that his spinning and twisting can dodge whatever rhetorical bullets get launched at him.
This isn’t really so much about Barack Obama, who likes to flirt with this messianic tone, but about the people who eat that up. These movies speak to a deep need within many for some kind of Messiah to lead them out of their confusion. They are popular because they touch that nerve — and Obama does as well. And in order to really serve that need, The One has to be free of any real history in order to allow his followers to project on him whatever they themselves believe.
It’s escapism, on the political front. Obama has tapped into a palpable impulse to shed responsibility for tough choices and instead look for a savior who will set the world aright. As Montgomery notes, though, The One almost always disappoints when it turns out that he’s just a man after all.
Well, except for Bill Parcells. He usually delivers.