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BARACK OBAMA: THE NEW CAESAR AFRICANUS?
OR, WHAT THE HELL IS CHRIS MATTHEWS TALKING ABOUT?

By C. Antonio Romero

SAN FRANCISCO, 28 AUGUST 2008 - I had thought to write a comment on Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (which, by the way, was just what it needed to be: uplifting, specific, forward-looking and tough). But I was too distracted by MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews, who seemed carried away by the spirit of the moment.

Is Barack Obama a new African Caesar? Or a political Class 5 hurricane?

"First time in the history of Western Civilization, somebody with an African background... somebody, oh, Caesar Africanus, or Augustus Africanus, or something, I'm a mess here... Cleopatra, or whatever..."

Prior to the election of George W. Bush, Matthews seemed like a reasonable sort of talking head; if his Hardball schtick of interrupting his guests with reductive questions and not letting them finish a thought was wearying, at least he usually seemed to badger people who deserved it.

The post-9/11 Matthews, however, seemed to take leave of his senses, at least for a long time. Most memorably, he gushed with guest G. Gordon Liddy over President Bush's flight deck strut, his manly characeristic strapped up in his parachute harness-an embarassing moment that might have unhinged a career in a more balanced age.

In recent years, since the realization that no WMD would be found in Iraq, and especially since Democrats returned to control of the Congress, Matthews has been less mesmerized by the Administration. But for every gust of lucidity, such as blasting the feathers off of talk-radio parrot Kevin James, there have been more weird enthusiasms. Most of MSNBC is impressed with Obama, but for Matthews, the Senator sends a thrill up his leg (or perhaps a little river of anticipation down his inseam).

Today was another such moment. Talking to political analyst Michelle Bernard, Matthews ran off with himself again, saying:

Talk about what it means now... to have someone who has won the nomination of a major political party... First time in the history of Western Civilization, somebody with an African Background... somebody, oh, Caesar Africanus, or Augustus Africanus, I'm a mess here, or Cleopatra , or whatever...

Who is Caesar Africanus?

The democratic instrument of memory that is Wikipedia never heard of him.

It does, however, give us black Republican Scipio Africanus Jones, (who would probably not find a home in today's GOP).

Who is Caesar Africanus? The democratic instrument of memory that is Wikipedia has never heard of him.

It can be a bit disorienting to peer into Chris's brain, but in this case I'll hazard a guess: he was thinking of Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who, ironically, earned his name by conquering Carthage, and then went on to decline the title of Dictator.

Matthews seems to be on the right side (and not just the winning side) of history in this election. And zeal has its place in a fight for truth, justice and the American Way: MSNBC and Keith Olbermann deserve kudos for real-time truth-squadding an AP piece by Charles Babington, which sounded like it was cribbed from Republican talking points and signed off by a lazy editor before Obama had even given his speech. (Not for nothing do companies pay staggering sums of money for real-time data. It helps to know what's in the speech before you critique it.)

But this kind of frothing is a bit embarassing. Matthews may be inadvertently right in offering Obama the title of America's African Caesar, but he needs to throttle back his hyperbole gland and cut down on the caffeine before moving onto the Republican convention.

Sometimes bribed or politically motivated augurs would fabricate unfavorable auspices in order to delay certain state functions, such as elections.

Assuming, that is, that they go ahead with the convention as scheduled. Scuttlebutt now is that it may be postponed on account of inauspicious weather. Specifically, the GOP augurs fear having their convention share airtime with coverage of Tropical Storm Gustav, which threatens to become the Second Coming of Katrina.

Or, perhaps, they are simply looking for an excuse to hunker down, finding themselves in the path of an unexpectedly powerful perfect storm blowing in their faces.

Hurricane Barack? "Signs point to yes. "

C. Antonio Romero is the Nouveau and Technology editor of Culturekiosque.com. He last wrote on Obama's New Gimmick: Announcing Running Mate by Text Message.



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