When I was a kid back in the 80s, I looked forward to watching professional wrestling on television every Saturday morning. I liked the action, got a kick out of the personalities, and yes… I believed it was real. But there was one aspect of the programs that always confused me. From time to time, a new, mysterious wrestler would arrive on the scene – one that came from “parts unknown” as the ring announcer would put it. As he’d walk to the ring, the announcers would comment on how little they knew of the muscle-bound stranger, and then react in astonishment as he pummeled his first opponent to a pulp.
There was only one problem. The wrestler wasn’t “new” at all. In fact, he was the same guy I had seen three weeks earlier on the same television program, just with a different hair style, a different outfit, and a different name. I mean, it was CLEARLY the same wrestler. Yet, the same two announcers that called his match three weeks earlier didn’t seem to recognize him, and the crowd appeared none the wiser. This perplexed me. Why didn’t anyone else remember this guy? Had the world gone insane? Eventually, my little boy mind accepted it and I moved on.
Now, one would think that such a blatant, absurd example of repackaging an individual could only be successful when presented to impressionable, young fans of choreographed warfare. Sadly this isn’t the case.
The 2012 presidential campaign has begun, and standing in this corner is Barack “The Compromiser” Obama.
Despite his dropping approval numbers, the Obama campaign believes they won the public perception battle over the recent debt ceiling hike, and they might be right. Polls did show that the electorate was not at all happy with the process they saw play out on television, and blame the Republicans in congress more than they blame President Obama. How did the president pull this off? He successfully portrayed himself as the adult in the room, willing to compromise his beliefs for the good of the country. Like any tainted victory, he had a little help from “outside interference”, aka the news media who can always be counted on to run to the aid of their champion.
With no economic record for Obama to stand on in a campaign that is all about the economy, creativity is required to convince voters that he deserves four more years. We’ve seen that creativity play out in recent weeks. Suddenly, the man who spearheaded his unpopular, unread health care bill down Americans’ throats without any Republican input or support is now blasting congress for an unwillingness to compromise. The man who demagogued Congressman Paul Ryan’s entitlement-reform legislation is now calling on congress to put forth entitlement-reform legislation. The man who blew up our national debt on a failed stimulus is now lecturing us on fiscal discipline.
In the real world, such gall would be identified and challenged. In the world of politics, however, perception is reality and the media is the conjurer of perception. The commentators we see in the news media are often no different than those commentators sitting ringside every Saturday morning. They just dress better. They not only substantiate their champion’s narratives but actively promote them. Historical context is ignored, the new persona is solidified, and casual viewers are none the wiser.
I actually think Barack “The Compromiser” Obama could be a winning character, possibly a main-eventer. He looks the part, he plays the part well, and he doesn’t have to answer for anything he did three weeks ago. And the best thing about it: If it doesn’t work out between now and the election, there’s plenty of other characters to choose from.