Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Maguffins 1 Obama 0

And so, having disposed of the monster, exit our hero through the front door, stage right, none the worse for his harrowing experience.

And exiting the stage with him, albeit in a different direction, go Donald Trump (throwing the pages of his sorry financial records that he is now obligated to release, over his shoulder one-by-one) and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the mindless media and all the members of the "I'm Not Going To Pay A Lot For This Muffler Party," and the other victims of the Republican Cult, and the Pro-Circumcision Party in the Arizona State Senate, and every other lemming you can think off, right off the cliff down towards the vast gorge of irrelevance and political absurdity.


Yesterday morning, a curious thing was heard on the local Fox television station in New York. There was Donald Trump – on the phone, no less – calling in to the station's obligatory moronic morning "newscast," and talking about President Obama and how he needs to release the documents immediately to prove that all the rumors are not true.

His college transcripts.

Trump, whether having concluded the birth certificate Snipe had run its course, or having finally bored himself, or having been tipped that the President was thinking about trying to shut this whole thing down, had pivoted to an announcement that the President was "a terrible student" and couldn't possibly have gotten into Columbia or Harvard, and that Mr. Obama really needed to stop refusing to release his college transcripts.

If that doesn't work, it'll be his list of movie rentals back in the days of VHS, or his Chicago White Sox ticket stubs to prove he really is a fan, or his laundry delivery records to make sure William Ayers or Jeremiah Wright or Karl Marx hasn't been slipping him notes inside the suit pockets like they did in that John LeCarre spy novel.

It is another reflection of our well-meaning but sometimes utterly tone-deaf President that he really dug up the long-form birth certificate – even after the previous one had been released, even after the Hawaii historians confirmed that 1961 newspaper birth announcements came only from hospitals, even after the looney-tunes World Net Daily had published (then suppressed) its own article confirming all the released documents were legit – dug it up and today released it and believed the distraction of the "carnival barkers" would vanish.

They're carnival barkers. They don't stop selling tickets just because there isn't a real mermaid back there. If you prove there's no mermaid, tomorrow they'll tell you there's a Martian.

Or better yet, they'll sell you on the new scandal: What happened to the Mermaid? Meet The 20-Foot Tall Detective Tracing Our Missing Mermaid! Translated to this sorry chapter of sorry American politics, that means the Radical Right will keep the conspiracy theory going and simply change the focus. Jonah Goldberg – who needs to produce a birth certificate of his own, not to prove he was born here, but just to prove he was born - has already started with this predictable, you-could've-bet-the-house-on-it screed: "The New Burning Question."

This one is why the White House released the Certificate now rather than earlier. The others will – simultaneously or in succession – be about whether the new document is real or a fake, or why he has two birth certificates, or — whatever, the detail is doesn't matter.

This is because the debate has never been about whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. The debate has been about whether the Republicans could or can do by rumor, innuendo, and Fox Propaganda, what they cannot do by the ballot: find the overarching "scandal" with which to beat a Democratic President. With Bill Clinton it was misconduct, sexual and legal, that made him look like a saint by contrast to the average Republican criticizing him (I'm looking at you, Newt – and all the mini-Newts). With Barack Obama it is anything, anything, anything at all, that will reinforce the idea that he is the dangerous other/terrorist/alien/menace/anti-christ that they can investigate and investigate and investigate, without any of them realizing that their racism – or any of a dozen lesser prejudices – is showing.

And the investigation is there not to prove or disprove anything, but to merely provide its supporters with an excuse, a rationalization, to hate a President and tell themselves they are not doing so because he is a Democrat, or a black man, but because he is somehow legally unqualified for the job. Anything at all will do, providing it holds together long enough for genuinely stupid people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Donald ('People Love My Hair') Trump to jump on the bandwagon and lead the chorus in several versions of "We Hate Him, But Not Because He's Black."

They have to do this. They're Republicans, of course they're prejudiced – against someone, all the time. And it isn't 1966 any more; they have been stymied, kept from using their favorite trick of the 20th Century, to backlash against Civil Rights by running on the "We've Done Enough For These People" platform. One of "These People" is now President.

Alfred Hitchcock once addressed the little-recognized reality that most of his dramas pivoted on central events – espionage, robbery, sabotage, Uranium 235, whatever – that were vital to the lives of the characters but got almost no actual elucidation in his films. In other words, unlike Agatha Christie's elaborate back stories, Hitchcock was content to tell you that Mr. Vandamm was a spy, and that's as much as you got.

Hitchcock justified this by explaining the story of the Maguffin. Two men are riding in the compartment of a British train and one of them, with tremendous effort, places an enormous and oddly shaped parcel in the rack above him and, sweating copiously, sits back down in his seat. The other man watches silently for minute after minute. He thinks he sees the parcel move, of its own accord, but can't be sure. Finally he can't take it any more, and he asks the stranger what's inside. "That," the man says, "is a Maguffin." They ride along in silence for a long time when the inquisitor finally speaks up again and asks what a Maguffin is. "A Maguffin," the man says wearily, "is a device for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands." Again there is silence. The other man blurts out, "But there aren't any lions in the Scottish Highlands!" The owner nonchalantly replies "Well then, that's no Maguffin."

Remember what the President has conveniently forgotten: The Republicans and the Tea Partiers always have more Maguffins.