New President arrives amid lofty expectations
There’s no new “Spider-Man” or “Iron Man” on the immediate horizon, but the superhero genre is alive and well. As evidence, consider next week’s inauguration.Historians cannot remember a moment when a president has arrived amid such lofty expectations. Barack Obama will not simply be sworn in; if he’s not careful he will be enshrined. Back in 1932, there were vague hopes that Franklin Roosevelt might help solve the Great Depression, but FDR was an unprepossessing patrician who spoke funny and sat in a wheelchair. Voters were more puzzled than expectant. But today, in the eyes of the world, Barack Obama is nothing short of the Last Action Hero. (He even makes an appearance in a bonus issue of the “Spider-Man” comicbook coming out on Jan. 14.) I’m not suggesting these hopes are delusional, but all the new president has on his plate is economic upheaval, a war on two fronts, chaos in the Middle East and a nation that is at once impoverished and demoralized. To provide a stimulus program for the U.S., Obama figures he’ll have to mobilize $1 trillion. We’re talking superhero numbers here: As the Wall Street Journal reminds us, the entire New Deal in today’s numbers cost a mere $32 billion, the Apollo space program $140 billion, the Louisiana Purchase a mere $15 million. The Marshall Plan that saved Europe after World War II today would cost $755 billion (as a share of today’s GDP). Thus next week’s inauguration will doubtless be known as the Trillion Dollar Inaugural and, as such, will be great political theater. The Obama team has demonstrated a show business gift for producing the Big Event — witness the staging of the acceptance speech at the Democratic convention or his Grant Park extravaganza. Everything Obama unveils carries the message: Transformative. Well, almost everything. Insiders point to the dominance of the Clinton fraternity among Obama appointees. To gain a Bush appointment you had to be a campaign contributor, but to gain the Obama inner circle you have to be either a Clintonite — or a Clinton. Of course, the new president has told us not to focus on the appointees themselves, but on the man who’s running things: The Last Action Hero. If Barack Obama is going to bring this off, perhaps he should take note of a few of the traits of the superhero fraternity. “Iron Man’s” gift is that he has a strong moral compass. And he knows how to handle the military-industrial complex (it’s part of his family). “Spider-Man’s” relevant gift is that he can swing from situation to situation with amazing dexterity, never quite leaving a mark. That’s good politics. “Batman” is smart at choosing his battles. And, as he reminded us this last outing, he’s damn good at generating box office. Obama take note: Ticket sales are like votes. We can skip “Superman.” His outfit is a bit embarrassing and his ambiguities toward women keep getting in the way. Will the superhero franchise come through for Barack Obama? Anyone who starts off with a trillion-dollar economic package needs all the showbiz tricks he can mobilize.