Throughout the 2008 election many people compared Barack Obama to Superman. There were pictures of him opening up his shirt à la Clark Kent to reveal a big “O”. There was a photo of him posing arms akimbo in front of a giant Superman statue, not to mention dozens of cartoons with him cut and pasted onto Superman’s body on YouTube.
During the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in 2008, where it’s traditional for presidential candidates to poke fun at themselves and the opposition, Obama finally got into the act with the Superman comparisons when he said: “Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor El, to save the planet Earth. Many of you – many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is that Barack is actually Swahili for ‘that one’.”
Obama got it wrong.
After a year, it is pretty clear that we are not dealing with Superman in the White House. But it might be the case that he’s closer to Neo from the “Matrix:” not “that one,” but “THE One.”
In the “Matrix” films the main character, Neo, is also referred to as “the One.” He spends the entire movie denying the powers that he’s been given. Finally, when he finds that his friends are in mortal danger, he accepts his powers, takes control and saves the day. And in the last month Obama has finally figured out that he’s Neo and not Superman.
Since Obama got into office he has lived in a fantasy world where he thought that Democrats would have a spine and Republicans would engage in bi-partisan policy making. He also hired most of Bush’s old military advisors, extended Bush’s war policies and failed to take on the banks he lambasted during the campaign. Then his party lost key elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The final blow came this January when Obama’s approval ratings dropped below 50 percent in some polls. At that point, Obama finally decided to choose the red pill over the blue bill. Ever since he’s been karate chopping the opposition in his State of the Union speech, taking on agents of the healthcare industry and dodging controversy and criticism like he’s in slow motion.
Consider the House Republican Conference in late January just days after the State of the Union. While initially touted as just a small time meeting, the event actually turned into a one-and-a-half hour policy debate between President Obama and the entire House Republican conference. It was fantastic political theatre, and the president handled them like he was talking to a high school debate class. He knew more about many of the Republican proposals than the Republican leadership did. He was beating back foolish policy proposals right and left without breaking a sweat. It was like that final scene in the “Matrix” where Neo comes back from being shot, finally realizes that he’s the most powerful man in the room and proceeds to take out all of the enemy agents with one hand tied behind his back – just for fun. Republicans were stunned, Democrats and progressives were thrilled and Obama was just getting started.
This newfound Barack has finally gone through with his promise to end the ban on gays in the military, pushed through a jobs bill in record time and now he’s forcing a vote on healthcare through reconciliation, bypassing the obstructionist Republicans in Congress and fulfilling a promise he made over two years ago. There may be controversy surrounding his healthcare proposal, but Obama believes in it, and it is his job to pass legislation he believes will help the country. In short, he’s finally acting like a president instead of an icon.
Superman is a hero, but a bit naïve. He lectures bad guys while he throws them into jail, only to have them break out and commit the same crime in a month. He foils Lex Luthor’s plans but refuses to take him out for good. Then there’s Neo from the “Matrix,” who took awhile to figure out his job and his powers, but when he finally saw his friends (and by allegory policies) in serious danger he accepted his role and led his people to victory. Americans may love a Superman, but Neo got the job done, and it looks like Obama has finally figured out which hero he wants to be.