by T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII
It seems now scarcely possible that 15 months have transpired since I proclaimed my endorsement of Barack Obama on the pages of The National Topsider. As is clear now as it was then, Mr. Obama was the only sane choice for well-bred, commonsense conservatives; but, alas, as Christ himself noted, a prophet is without honor in his own land. For simply giving voice to this inescapable truth, I found myself branded as an apostate and banished by the state college neanderthals who now control that once-respected journal founded by my own father in 1948. Such is the sad state of conservatism that one of its best minds is forcefully escorted from his birthright by an obese security lummox named Lamont.
An obscene calumny, yes, but I request no tears on my behalf. In my new role as conservative pundit-without-portfolio, my exile to this dreary internet Elba has afforded the unfettered opportunity to hone subsequent theses on our national zeitgeist, as well as my badminton backhand. I have emerged, in the assessment of many, as the leading chronicler of the many ills that afflict conservatism. For more than a year I have warned that absent a rapprochement with the telegenic and wildly popular President, the conservative movement risked abandonment by its few remaining serious intellectuals and being overrun by the unsightly hordes of Wal-Mart untermenschen typified by the loathesome "Tea Party" rabble. As is now obvious, events have proven me right. Yet I take no delight in this vindication; no more than Cassandra in her presaging the fall of Troy.
Those who have followed my missives in this space are also aware of my growing concerns about the President himself. While he enjoys the continuing allegiance of our nation's smart set, it now appears that the unhinged insolent mobs of the town halls have successfully conspired to inflict some damage on the once-unassailable fortress of his approval ratings. This unforeseeable turn of events has culminated in the recent coup in Massachusetts, where the House of Kennedy was unceremoniously deposed from its ancestral Senate estate by some ill-bred populist pickup trucker. The better journalistic organs have published soothing reassurances that this latest insult to American birthright was a fluke, having more to do with Mr. Brown's erotic appeal to the Bay State's famously nymphomaniacal womenfolk than any significant disagreement with the President's legislative agenda. Still, I am afraid that Mr. Obama must accept some of the blame. The corollary to le droit de seigneur is the obligation of the ruler to maintain a modicum of rapport with his subjects, and in this respect the President has been found curiously wanting. But therein lies a conundrum; how does a man of such prodigious oratorical and intellectual gifts lower himself to the base enthusiasms and simian grunts of the commons?
Happily, such momentary concerns were cleared away in one magnificent fell swoop Wednesday evening as our ever-elegant President delivered his premier State of the Union address. I viewed the televised spectacle from my Upper East Side pied a terre with a select group of like-minded conservative intellectual luminaries; the vivacious Kathleen Parker, Dame Peggy Noonan, and those two mighty Davids of conservative letters, Frum and Brooks. I confess now to harboring anticipatory 'butterflies' about Mr. Obama's performance, though not to the point of Mr. Brooks, who was curled into a fetal ball on the Persian rug (a gift, I should note, from Shah Reza Pahlavi himself). Those fears, I can now report, were entirely unfounded, for the President turned in a performance for the ages, an utter tour de force of rhetorical excellence worthy of Demosthenes himself.
In those astonishing 75 minutes that held an entire nation rapt, Mr. Obama transcended the earthly bounds of mere oratory; it was the music of Heaven itself, and only the language of music can sufficiently describe his sheer virtuosity. Luckily, music is a second language for me, having once played second bassoon in the East Hampton Children's Orchestra and contralto in the boy's choir at my Swiss finishing school. I would also add that we Van Voorheeses have long acted as benefactors and patrons to symphonic composers, most notably Johannes Ockreinpflug whose Baroque masterpiece "Lament auf der Dungeon" was composed during his indentured servitude to my 16th century progenitor Wilhelm.
But I digress. With the eyes of the audience upon him, Mr. Obama ascended to the podium and with a stern tap of the baton brought the house to silence. The fanfare began simply enough, with the President playing a deft arpeggio of acknowledgements, segueing into a brief capriccio of invited guest introductions. But this seemingly prosaic first movement gave little hint to the muscular leitmotif that would follow.
It was in his high notes reprising his ouevre of accomplishments that Mr. Obama found his real pace. These were transposed, contrapunto, against a typanic discordant dirge to the Bush years. After a brief throwaway intermezzo on national security, a smooth key shift to B natural in the Keynesian monetary scale, comprising a breathtaking rapid-fire series of spending proposal cadenzas; legato, glissando, staccato, and back again. This was followed by a masterful obbligato to fiscal responsibility.
Before the audience had time to take in the full breadth of that passage, the Maestro then showed his range by unleashing a barrage of oratorical notes that at once reclaimed the Tea Partiers' insipid populist shanty songs and returned them with symphonic fury. Gone was Barack Obama, the supremely competent if unemotional prodigy; in this moment he was reborn as the great fiery virtuoso, wielding his savage baritone against the villainous bank lobby and fat cat special interests.
Pure stagecraft, perhaps, but also pure magic. Here he was, chin out, defiant, a strutting populist cock o' the walk. In this I was delightfully reminded of another private school dandy turned theatrical Street Fightin' Man, the great Mick Jagger. In the more carefree days of my youth, my chalet mate Kloonkie Von Wallensheim and I took leave of our studies to attend an outdoor concert performance by Sir Mick and his Rolling Stones in Altamont, California; I will never forget how his stage antics held the 300,000 attendees in thrall, and the grand time Kloonkie and I enjoyed taunting some filthy motorcycling club who were gathered near the stage. We were eventually forced to beat a hasty retreat, but escaped unscathed thanks to the quick protective reflexes of Kloonkie's late manservant Udo.
40 years later, on the floor of the House, Mr. Obama proved himself heir apparent to the Wizard of Altamont. Coiling, menacing, prowling, pouting, our Jumpin' Jack Flash-in-Chief worked the majority side of the hall into a frenzy, like some beautiful petulant electric cobra panther in a Brooks Brothers 3-button suit. And when he unleashed his climactic campaign finance j'accuse at his Republican foes and the assembled Supreme Court, I was fully hoping a House member would lunge through and beat Justice Alito senseless with a tire iron. Sympathy For the Devil, indeed.
As a touching symphonic coda, the President finished with a pastoral cantata urging a new bipartisan tone. The Maestro left to thunderous applause, declining several curtain calls, and was whisked back to his atelier where he is reportedly rescoring the speech into a fundraising suite.
Such was his triumph that I and my guests were rendered emotionally spent, the tears cascading down our awestruck cheeks. Nearly overcome, Brooks likened it to the best works of Rimsky-Korsakov. I objected to this silly assessment, as I have always found the Russian too cloying and self-insistent for an educated musical palate. No, I replied, in this speech Mr. Obama proved himself Mozart incarnate, against which the Republican Salieris could only respond with their same inane repertoire of off-key tax cut polkas.
After regaining our collective composure we found ourselves in unanimous accord that Mr. Obama had finally discovered political oratory's legendary lost chord, satisfying both to the trained ear of the discerning connoisseur and the primal aesthetics of the lower castes. If Congreve was correct that music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, then Mr. Obama's clever paeans to populism will hopefully tranquilize and chastise the savages of the Tea Party, that they can once again be put safely back in their proper pens.
As luck would have it, we were able to reach the President by speaker phone later that evening to offer our personal congratulations. By the time Frum and Parker finally stifled their schoolgirl giggles, we had only a few minutes. I endeavored to make it brief.
"Maestro, in the orchestra of American government, the Senate is the strings, the House is the woodwinds and brass, the executive branch the percussion," I noted. "But the most important instrument is the presidency. It is the piano in our national symphony, and for far too long we have waited for someone worthy to caress its keys."
"Thank you Mr. President," I concluded. "You are truly that big pianist we've all been waiting for."