I was watching Superman Returns the other night for the umpteenth time. OneChele loves the Superheroes (usually though The Dark Knight scared the %$#! out of me). Anyway, I was watching the scene where Supey (only his close friends can call him that) swoops in to stop the plane from crashing into a baseball stadium and heroically saves the day. He ends up standing in the doorway of the plane, hands on hips, cape fluttering dramatically behind him while the stadium applauds wildly. They pan the crowd and see everyone, young and old, black and white, male and female cheering ecstatically. They pan to the JumboTron where his image is captured in 1080p high-def brilliance and you realize the whole thing has been broadcast live around the country. All of America joins in the standing ovation.
That scene always really affects me. It seems like such a quintessentially American moment. Disaster narrowly averted, good guy saves the day, order is restored, rejoicing commences in the streets. Once I dabbed my eyes, it occurred to me. The reason people are so reluctant to give Obama (or any president) their full props. We elect Superman and then realize we are being governed by someone who is only human.
Never was this fantasy-to-reality paradox more apparent than with President Obama. Has there ever been a President better suited to high-definition? Never before has any American President soared to office on such a wave of hope, optimism and expectation of change. So high was the euphoria over his mere viability and candidacy that by the time he actually won the election, most of us could only smile teary-eyed in stunned disbelief and suspended elation. Knowing this, Barack attempted to level-set expectations early. He was not the Messiah or the son of Jor-El. He was (and is) a man of extraordinary skill, diplomatic, gifted, smart and charismatic but not in fact a mythical or holy savior of any kind.
But America was (and still is) a country in desperate need of saving. Which is why, no matter how many ways Obama said he was going to do the best he could with the crap that was handed him, we still want more and we want it now. No matter how many banks he saves, green initiatives he launches, foreign leaders he woos back into American allegiance, he can't do enough for us. No matter how hard he campaigns for policies that will help this country in the long-run while still providing immediate relief, we expect miracles.
Not only do we expect miracles, we expect no mistakes. We have demanded a level of transparency and accountability from this President that no other in my lifetime has been subject to. This man cannot take his family overseas with him, take his wife on a date, accept a book from a foreign leader or offer his opinion on a close friend's arrest without the weight of the Right and the glare of the mainstream media beaming down on him with ferocious intensity. He can't even be born in this country without having his citizenship challenged and his status as President undermined. Public service is a kind of thankless task when you think about it.
In Spiderman 2, when Peter Parker gets frustrated with his thankless task of assisting the ungrateful masses; he chucks the uniform before skipping off to sing a sunshiny day tune and mind his own business. I can't help but wonder if some days President Obama doesn't want to chuck his uniform in the dumpster and skip off into happy anonymity. Parker re-assumes the mantle of Spiderman when he realizes the world needs a hero more than a mathematically gifted photographer. Personally, I believe America is a better place with Obama as President rather than private citizen.
Like his Superhero counterparts, Obama has a gnarly cast of archenemies to battle on a regular basis. If Batman had to fight Catwoman, the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin (and all their deluded minions) all at once; he would pack up the cape. I'll bet there are days when Obama longs for a Bat Cave or even Wonder Woman's invisible helicopter so he could be about some business without the constant interference and commentary. [Sidebar: I just got a visual of Joe Biden as Robin, the Boy Wonder – Holy Mental Image, Batman!]
In spite of the cool toys the President has at his disposal; unlike the Superfriends, Obama has no super powers. He can't leap tall buildings (or fat racist radio show pontificators) in a single bound, he can't dodge speeding bullets (verbal or otherwise), and he is not faster than a locomotive (though in my humble opinion, he's moving pretty fast).
Having milked my analogy as far as I care to, I'll wrap with this: It's ugly out here in Gotham. The crazies have overrun the asylum; it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, the citizens have started to turn on each other and everybody wants to be Lois Lane. We have as President someone who instead of quaking at the behemoth task of cleaning up the town in front of him; rolls up his sleeves and dives in a task at a time. Damn if he doesn't smile and look good while doing it. If that isn't a Superhero, I don't know what is.
Can the man ever do enough to make America happy? Wouldn't you love to see him rock the cape and tights?