Please allow me this minor bit of self-indulgence.
As a ghetto nerd, I am obligated to respond to any news item which purports to connect President Barack Obama with an iconic comic book character. Moreover, a while back I offered the suggestion that Michael Steele, former Chairman of the GOP, was actually the embodiment of the character known as John Henry Irons. I was quite rightly (and quickly) corrected by commentator Heavy Armor that Steele was more akin to the character known as Bizarro Superman.
The meme is back--as 1) it is so obvious and 2) because Superman lives in the collective subconscious for now and forever--and CNN has accordingly picked up the ball and run with it.
I rarely offer polls. They can be fun. So please vote.
So you tell me, readers of WARN and other travelers, is President Obama actually Clark Kent, a weak, malleable, chronic compromiser, a running critique of the whole human race?
Or is President Obama actually Kal-El, the man who we know as Superman, and he is playing a deep game, lest we be afraid of his greatness of strength and fortitude of character?
Please listen carefully to Bill a.k.a David Carradine's soliloquy on Superman. I would suggest that we can easily extend his pithy words to our sitting President.
In all, the differences between Obama, Superman, Clark Kent, and Kal-El are nuanced. They are also a great example of popular culture as politics; thus, popular culture is made into a useful lens for thinking about basic questions of presidential leadership and governance.
Obama: Clark Kent or Superman?
Washington (CNN) -- What did you do over your summer vacation?
If you're President Obama, you've had a bit of a transformation. That is, from the mild-mannered Clark Kent into, well, Superman.
Or something like that.
When we last left this story, President Obama was trying to be the measured adult in the room, compromising over the debt ceiling to get a deal. In the end, it wasn't the "grand bargain" that Obama wanted. Liberals argued that it was awful, too -- chastising the president for negotiating with himself. And Republicans complained that they needed more spending cuts. And, oh, by the way, they still wanted to repeal health care reform.
In other words, an unsatisfactory experience for all.
So when Obama came back to D.C. this fall, the feeling inside the White House was that something had to change. The bad news: Mr. Adult (aka Mr. Compromise) had sunk to new lows in the ratings. The good news: Congress had sunk even lower. Way lower. Then House Speaker John Boehner gave a speech outlining his demands for the deficit reduction "supercommittee."
Top of the list: no new taxes.
Shocking, I know.
That about did it. The White House figured it had no partner for peace. The man who had almost signed on to the grand bargain -- with some tax increases and entitlement cuts -- wasn't about to come back to the table anytime soon.
The next step: play the game.
The president outlined his demand for the debt reduction supercommittee: no spending cuts for the middle class without commensurate tax increases on the wealthy. No proposals for long-term entitlement reform. But there was a catchy bumper sticker: the Buffett Rule. Billionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us.
It's not intellectually satisfying. Nor does it improve the chances for a deal out of the supercommittee that can get anywhere in Congress. It's politics, plain and simple.
In fact, the strategy does one big thing: It reunites the president with the base of the Democratic Party, which finally had something to cheer. When Barack Obama came out swinging this week, threatening to veto any deficit reduction measure without a balance of new taxes and spending cuts, there was joy among liberals. Obama had finally come home.
For the rest of us, well, it was a dismal peek at reality. Who can really fault the White House for playing politics with Republicans who have refused to cut the big deals? After all, the GOP presidential candidates, by and large, are still complaining that Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling. After Boehner lay down his laws, Obama had to do the same. He could no longer negotiate with himself.
So he joined the game. Maybe it's the opening salvo, and maybe something will come of this kabuki. But there is a final calculation here: if nothing comes out of the supercommittee, the president would be less damaged than the Congress.
As for the rest of us, we're still Waiting for Superman. The real one.