No doubt, Barack Obama is a powerful speaker with a gift for the inspirational turn of phrase and the compelling rhetorical flourish. That, in the very least, distinguishes him from the incumbent, who has displayed an admirable if philistine disregard for all things linguistic.
In the flush of his conventional-wisdom-defying showing on Super Tuesday, one could, while camped out a good distance from the nearest TV and without really listening to his speech, discern the lilt and punch of his oratorical sorties. Just the melody and the rhythm of the surging discourse threatened to transport me to a place I had resisted going all along: an openness to belief that the audacity of hope was something more than a cynical marketing strategy blue-skyed my some Madison Avenue Machiavelli.
And then came the chorus, which thudded against my ears as if the Jupiter Symphony were being played with murderous abandon by the seventh-grade symphony orchestra at Havre Central Junior High School.
YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! …
That’s when it became clear that the Obama in ’08 fantasy was nothing more than quixotic dream destined to end in the national nightmare of a Clinton-McCain horse race.
How do I know this? I’ve heard this refrain of defeat before. In 1974, a charismatic African-American arrived in Philadelphia with a similarly uplifting message: The Phillies, the most forlorn franchise in baseball’s colorful history, could succeed.
The Phillies, an execrable franchise which had never won a World Series title and had just two National League pennants to show for a century of ritualistic embarrassment, could succeed.
The Phillies, contrary to the brutal, unequivocal lessons taught by history, could succeed.
Yes, brash second baseman Dave Cash averred, we can!
YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!
And, fools and knaves that we were, we believed. And despite the uplifting mantra and the best efforts of Dave Cash himself, the Phillies couldn’t. He did his part, collecting 608 hits over his three-year stay in the City of Brotherly Love and making three All-Star teams.
As for the Phillies, they won 101 games in 1976 and finally won the National League East in Cash’s final season. Then they got steamrolled by the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series, proving little more than a contemptible speed bump on the Big Red Machine’s highway to immortality.
After Cash left for Montreal as a free agent, things got worse still. The Phillies won 101 games and the East again in 1977. Tied 1-1 in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, they had pivotal Game 3 in their pocket: two-run lead, two outs in the ninth, nobody on base. Then they proceeded to lose in the most excruciating, ball-wrenching, unforgettable manner imaginable. They won their third straight NL East crown in 1978 and, surely enough, bombed out against the Dodgers again. Three NL East titles, three devastating failures in the National League playoffs.
YES WE CAN?
Therein lies the cruel reality, the mantra for destruction, the unmistakable foreshadowing of the disaster that will engulf the Obama campaign in the end.
Dave Cash and Barack Obama, linked across the ages by three little words that add up to a biblical oracle of doom. The ghosts of Vic Davalillo, Manny Mota, Greg Luzinski and Davey Lopes assure that much.
YES WE CAN?
Au contrere, mon frere: We are doomed.