To savor the full fiasco of Barack Obama’s maiden overseas visit as president, one might recollect the “Lassie Come Home” series, or rather its creator.
Eric Mowbray Knight, a major in the Army Air Corps in World War II, died in a mysterious crash in the jungles of Dutch Guiana in 1943. His tragic demise has been mourned by those who were so genuinely touched by the humanity of his story, made into movies, about a boy and his devoted collie.
“Lassie” overshadowed all of Knight’s other books, and that, too, is a tragedy, for among those lesser-known writings is an absolute gem titled “The Flying Yorkshireman,” published in 1938 by Harper and Brothers.
It is a fanciful tale of a diminutive Yorkshireman named Sam Small, of whom no one had ever heard — until he discovered, or believed he had discovered, that he could actually fly.
A native Yorkshireman himself, Knight brings to life a common dream that must haunt a lot more frustrated souls than Sam Small.
What’s that to do with a personage so grand as the celebrated Obama? Just be patient. Fetch a copy of “The Flying Yorkshireman,” settle back in a familiar chair and allow sheer enjoyment to lift you.
That’s sort of how Sam Small got started, only it was in his own bed, shared precariously with a disgruntled wife.
Sam would lie there, wishing and wondering if insignificant, unaccomplished he could fly. One night to his amazement, he levitated an inch or so off the mattress. But as surprise begat alarm, then doubt, then disbelief, then chagrin, Sam flopped back with a bounce that, he rued, awoke his unamused wife.
Sam eventually convinced himself, and his dubious missus, that he really could fly. Not by artificial means, not by flapping his featherless arms like wings but by merely stretching them out on each side and soaring and gliding, gracefully and effortlessly.
An inconsequential nobody, an unknown with no particular qualification or demonstrated prior achievement, he would — or thought he could — zoom room to room in the cottage, then far beyond his obscure village.
His overconfidence in his own special-ness proved infectious. Mrs. Small joined his euphoria. As did an enterprising celebrity agent when the Smalls visited the United States, where anything is believable by those with no real beliefs. Next, the press picked it up.
Beginning to sound a little familiar?
As Sam’s notoriety grew, or was fanned, his agent booked Madison Square Garden for his grand debut. Rows upon rows of seats surrounded an oval track, a runway from which the post-ordinary, trans-everything flying Yorkshireman was to take off. Tickets sold like hot Yorkshire puddings.
To the thundering ovation of a jam-packed stadium crowd, Sam poised on the track, extended his arms and began his takeoff jog.
He didn’t immediately leave the ground. He trotted faster, with the same lack of result. Then he ran, as best he could, around the track, around again. No lift-off.
Cheers turned to jeers, believers into disbelievers. Sam fled the stadium … back into oblivion.
Like the Yorkshireman, Barack Obama burst upon the scene from obscure lineage — his emanating in disparate continents, Africa and North America.
Arms extended, Obama still circles the arena. Cheers continue, but slacken. His ill-timed effort to spread his wings across Europe, so congenial in leftist venues he courted, turned into a trans-substantial continental flop.
High-flying oratory proved utterly inefficacious in winning any major foreign-policy result he set himself to bring home in triumph. Obama’s personal diplomacy never took off.
He keeps running ever faster, straining for lift-off. Whatever surges through his mind now remains best unspoken. Surely, it can no longer be that haughty misconception of a unique, miraculous ability to fly, all on his own lung power.
In Greek mythology, Icarus learned the hard way that he couldn’t fly, either.
As his artificial wings drew too close to the sun, the wax melted, sending him to his doom. Obama’s not likely to try that; it’s a stretch too far, even for his ego.
In time, he will discover as Sam Small did: It’s not about him, especially not him. Where, then, is Barack Obama to go when he must quit the arena afoot?
At least awaiting Sam Small was the comfort of a Yorkshire pub where it’s folly to try to impress anyone with how transcendentally special you imagine you are.
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com. Read John Perry's columns here.
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