Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.
In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.
As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.
Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.
Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.