The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama
On the road from stirring symbol of hope and change to the Fat Elvis of neoliberalism, birthday-partying Barack Obama sold us all out
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.
— Leo Tolstoy
“Even Scaled Back,” wrote Vanity Fair, “Barack Obama’s Birthday Bash Is the Event of the Season.” Not even the famed glossy Bible of the unapologetic rich seemed sure of whether to write Obama’s Birthday bash straight or as an Onion headline: what did the “Event of the Season” mean during a pandemic?
A former president flying half the world’s celebrities to spend three days in a maskless ring-kissing romp at a $12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion, at a moment when only a federal eviction ban prevented the outbreak of a national homelessness crisis, was already an all-time “Fuck the Optics” news event, and that was before the curveball. Because of what even the New York Times called “growing concerns” over how gross the mega-party looked, not least for the Joe Biden administration burdened with asking the nation for sober sacrifice while his ex-boss raised the roof with movie stars in tropical shirts, advisers prevailed upon the 44th president to reconsider the bacchanal. But characteristically, hilariously, Obama didn’t cancel his party, he merely uninvited those he considered less important, who happened to be almost entirely his most trusted former aides.
Cast out, the Times said, were “the majority of former Obama administration officials… who generally credit themselves with helping create the Obama legacy,” including former top aide David Axelrod, who’d just called Obama an “apostle of hope” in the Washington Post and sat for a three-hour HBO documentary deep-throat of his ex-boss. Remaining on the list were celeb couples Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as well as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, along with Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, and other Fabulous People, who drank “top shelf liquor,” puffed stogies, and hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club (membership fee: $350,000). An early report that Pearl Jam had been hired to perform was later refuted. Eddie Vedder would just be there, but not to play.
One attendee called it the “party of all parties,” while another added, “Y’all never seen Obama like this,” by which he might have meant Obama reportedly dancing as Trap Beckham, performing live, substituted “Prez” for “Bitch” in this classic:
It's all about you
Girl tonight it's about you…
Fuck it up if it's your birthday bitch!
There’s a glorious moment in the life of a certain kind of politician, when either because their careers are over, or because they’re so untouchable politically that it doesn’t matter anymore, that they finally get to remove the public mask, no pun intended. This Covid bash was Barack Obama’s “Fuck it!” moment.
He extended middle fingers in all directions: to his Vineyard neighbors, the rest of America, Biden, the hanger-on ex-staffers who’d stacked years of hundred-hour work weeks to build his ballyhooed career, the not quite A-listers bounced at the last minute for being not famous enough (sorry, Larry David and Conan O’Brien!), and so on. It’d be hard not to laugh imagining Axelrod reading that even “Real Housewife of Atlanta” Kim Fields got on the party list over him, except that Obama giving the shove-off to his most devoted (if also scummy and greedy) aides is also such a perfect metaphor for the way he slammed the door in the faces of the millions of ordinary voters who once so desperately believed in him.
Obviously, getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American. But this wasn’t supposed to be in the script for Obama, whose remarkable heel turn has been obscured by the Trump years, which incidentally were at least partly his fault. The history books and the still-starstruck press will let him skate on this, but they shouldn’t.
Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time — he fooled us all. Moreover, his remarkably vacuous post-presidency is proving true everything Trump said in 2016 about the grasping Washington politicians whose only motives are personal enrichment, and who’d do anything, even attend his wedding, for a buck. Trump’s point was that he, Trump, was already swinishly rich, while politicians have only one thing to sell to get the upper class status they crave: us.
Obama did that. He sold us out, and it’s time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.
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