woody zimmerman 118 2007Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? (Hoo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!) The Shadow...”

Starting in the 1930s, and extending well into the ‘50s, Americans regularly spent evenings scaring themselves by listening to that spooky line and ghostly laugh on the radio drama, The Shadow. The Shadow was everywhere. He saw all and knew all. No one knew who he was. We almost believed it.

I had forgotten all about the Shadow until just recently, when I heard a caller to a local talk-radio show discuss the mess the country is in. Obviously a true believer in Barack Obama as Wunderkind, the caller (who evidently shared the president’s ethnicity) simply could not believe or accept that his beloved hero – who had promised so much – was responsible. A “shadow government” operating behind the scenes must be causing all this trouble, argued the caller. It couldn’t be Obama’s doing. He didn’t exactly mention, “infamous powers,” but that was clearly what he thought. (Gad! Could the dastardly Dick Cheney still be backstage, pulling the strings? Hoo-hoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…)

The program’s host loved the call. I did, too, for it explained so much about the mess we’re in and how we got there. Finally, after nearly six years of this disastrous presidency, even the worshippers most invested in Obama are realizing that the country is in deep kimschi. A talk-show caller on another show admitted that he had voted for Obama, but added, “I never dreamed he would screw up this badly…”

Confirmed liberals like Jonathan Turley – a prominent George Washington University law professor and former Obama-supporter – are finally speaking out about the danger posed by Obama’s extreme executive overreach. Dr. Turley says that Mr. Obama “…has reached a constitutional tipping point that threatens a fundamental change in how our country is governed. What we are witnessing today is one of the greatest challenges to our constitutional system in the history of this country.”

My only question for Dr. Turley would be, “Where have you been?” But I know the answer. Unfortunately, a signature of the American character is to wait until the bad guys are coming down the chimney, before we rouse ourselves to action. Just so, Dr. Turley and others who approved of Obama’s liberal agenda kept silent for far too long – perhaps until it’s too late – before sounding the alarm.

But there’s plenty of blame to go round. Big Media reporters, pundits, and various other spear-carriers – the ones Bernie Goldberg says have had a “Slobbering Love-affair” with Barack Obama – have mostly gone mum as scandal after (“phony”) scandal rolls out, the country’s foreign policy crashes and burns, and legions of illegal aliens pour through borders that now resemble Swiss Cheese. The “Hope and Change” bumper stickers are gone, and I can’t find anyone at Starbucks Coffee who will admit to having voted for the guy. How did he ever get elected?

We live in a visual age. Anything important – not to mention plenty that’s trivial – gets lavish, coverage on television, in living color. It’s almost like being there. This is far different from the 19th century, which was mostly a “literary” age. Then, although news traveled faster than it ever had before – due to the telegraph, telephone, and railroads – the public still got news mainly by reading. Other presentation media were very limited. For instance, although the Lincoln-Douglas debates on slavery were conducted before live audiences, they quickly became important literary works that were read by millions across the country. Indeed, they are still in print. They should be required reading for every student.

The early 20th century became the “audio” age, as radio allowed people to hear the news – sometimes as it was actually happening. Ball games were broadcast live, and dramatic events, like the crash of the Hindenburg in 1937, were sometimes covered on the scene. Important political speeches were also broadcast. In secretive Japan, citizens heard the emperor’s voice for the first time.

But the advent of television changed the world forever. Among other things, politics was transformed from a cerebral to a visual experience. Because of TV, a tall, good-looking, well-turned-out candidate now has a clear edge over a less-attractive opponent. Appearances matter a great deal – nuances of policy, less so (and sometimes not at all). Many campaigns now feature televised debates between candidates in which every word, inflection, flick of an eye, or yawn is scrutinized for deep meaning. George H. W. Bush’s glance at his watch during a debate became a negative factor in his campaign against Bill Clinton. Critics said it indicated his “boredom” with the debate and the campaign’s issues. Whether he was truly bored didn’t matter. That he looked bored was the thing.

Voters who heard the famous 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate on the radio believed Nixon’s experience and deep knowledge of government and foreign affairs had carried the debate for him. But viewers of the televised debate thought Kennedy – with his tousled hair and rakish good looks – was the winner. Critics said Nixon’s dark hair, overhanging brows, and heavy five-o’clock shadow gave him a “sinister” look.

In another electoral venue – fortunately, not for the presidency – one woman dismissed a candidate with the memorable line: “Oh, I could never vote for a man who has a space between his teeth…” This, too, is a product of the “visual age” we live in. But there’s no going back. The genie is out of the bottle.

In truth, television is no longer the servant, but the master of politics. Appearance is all. In 2007-’08, Barack Obama blew into war-weary America like a fresh breeze. He looked great, wearing a $2000 Armani suit, and sounded even better. He exuded confidence and seemed to have all the answers.

What was his experience? What were his plans? Where would he take the country?? Who knew? Who cared? (Really, the guy looked so perfect.) He swept triumphantly into office on a wave of Hope – his signature issue. He won the Nobel Peace Prize before he had time to try out the chair in the Oval Office.

Unfortunately, it was all words and eye-candy. Reporters – who usually display a crusty skepticism when something (or someone) looks too good to be true – were completely dazzled. Worse than that, they were besotted. They slobbered until they needed bibs. One reporter – who will remain nameless in this column – said a “thrill ran up his leg” when he heard Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform America.” Another said Obama seemed above everything – “like God.” It was a miracle – almost a rapture. He was truly the blessed one who would set everything right. We were all going to come together round the table of brotherhood, singing “Kum Bayah.” Bless the Lord (or whomever)! A small cadre of skeptics (including Yours Truly) stood by in complete shock as the Obama Coronation Parade romped by.

Now, nearly six years on, we know that things didn’t quite turn out as planned. What happened was what one might expect if management of the New York Yankees were entrusted to, say, an Englishman who had never played baseball – or perhaps had never even seen a baseball game. The Yankees’ owners wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. Yet citizens who can rightly be said to “own” this country willingly handed the awesome power of the presidency to a man who had never run so much as a lemonade-stand. All we knew was that he had a beautiful family and could talk the hind leg off a mule. How could anyone who looked that good and spoke that well not do a great job?

So we were fooled – not once, but twice. And now – with Mr. Obama no longer accountable to the voters – we are truly in the soup. The president has an agenda that he wants to execute, but a deadlocked Senate and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives are blocking him. Thus, he has assumed the right to take “unilateral” action – more like a king than a president of a constitutional republic. He issues executive orders to change existing laws or effectively declare new law. He enforces some laws and declines to enforce others. Confident that he has the full backing of his own party, he brazenly evades constitutional restrictions, daring opponents to “sue me.”

I could go on, but there’s no need. Even Hottentots in Africa have the full picture by now. Americans took a leap and chose an unknown who looked and sounded great. Somehow we forgot that you wouldn’t hire a baseball manager, a doctor, a mechanic, a teacher, an accountant, a landscaper or an airline pilot on such a basis. We screwed up (big time), and now we’re paying the price. We’ll have to suffer through another 2.5 years with this snake-oil merchant, hoping the place doesn’t fall down before we’re rid of him – that is, if he decides he’s ready to go. (No guarantees.)

Meanwhile the “women’s candidate,” who wants to keep the gravy train rolling, is warming up in the bullpen. She hopes the American people will be stupid enough (again!) to fill the world’s most important job on the basis of symbolism instead of competence. Let’s hope (and pray) that voters won’t be that gullible a second time.

If we can’t come to our senses about picking presidents, we’re done for as a country. No one will be able to put the pieces back together or pay the bills. Even the Shadow won’t be able to set things right, and I don’t think he has $17 trillion stuffed under his mattress.