The summer solstice is upon us early—tomorrow. How enchanting it is, stretching the daylight as far as the minutes will go. Cities in northern climes like London, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg seem to float on a cusp of ether when the sun is supposed to go down. But it just takes a short nap.
Summer's lease hath all too short a date, the Bard said, and ain't that the truth. In another life, before mean time began at the royal observatory at Greenwich, I ran with the Druids on the sacred ground of Stonehenge. Sun-worship still makes a kind of spiritual sense to me. As a Wisconsin girl who returns every July, summer memories include a profusion of raspberries from my grandfather's garden, ice cream cones from the university dairy, water-skiing on Lake Mendota and fireworks on curving land that belonged to the Indian chieftain Black Hawk. The village dance remains a highlight on the Fourth of July, where everyone rocks out and the girls have a hula hoop contest.
The summer of 2012 will not be bliss as usual. Far from it. Wisconsin has been wracked by an election to recall the state's Republican governor, Scott Walker. The recall failed, but Wisconsin stands out in front of widespread middle-class misery at being left out to dry in the summer sun, for Walker succeeded in putting collective bargaining (with public employee unions) under siege—in the state where it was invented.
Under the summer sun of 2012, the consequential presidential stakes will grow as high as an elephant's eye, like Oklahoma! cornfields in August. Summer's light is still on until late September and by that point the national electorate and swing states will lean in the wind one way or the other. Between President Obama and Mitt Romney there is a world of difference, but this election will be more a referendum on Obama than an enthusiastic mandate for Romney. As the gates of summer open, Obama has not yet found his voice with voters, not even his once-avid supporters, and that is cause for serious concern. Lukewarm supporters worry about his lackluster efforts to engage, because we know what brung him to the 2008 dance: that soaring rhetorical voice rising above a field of more seasoned Democratic primary opponents.
Either Obama will ripen under the summer sun or he won't take the heat on the hustings. The American people will get to know him much better through David Maraniss's brilliant new biography of his origins and life up until law school, Barack Obama: The Story, out today. Maraniss tracks his long quest for identity. In the end, the result is a carefully chosen coming of age as a young black man immersed in Chicago community politics. So closely does Maraniss investigate the crevices of his character that the public yet private Obama may cringe from the world knowing so much. The startling spot-on diary portrait by a girlfriend, Genevieve Cook, whom he dated in his 20s, reveals how high his walls were—and are. (James Fallows, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, dismissed the Cook journal as typical; actually, the insightful passages are a unique gift to Maraniss and to history.) True, Obama wrote his flowing literary autobiography in his 30s, but handled self disclosure artfully. Maraniss's authoritative narrative, informed by interviews in Kenya, Indonesia, and Hawaii, is the true story.
Coming soon under the 2012 sun, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on healthcare reform in late June. The nine so-called Supremes are likely to strike down the huge legislative accomplishment, which will be a terrible blow to the president. The John Roberts court can't really be held up to the light of day—except to point out that interestingly, there is only one man on the liberal/moderate side of its deep split. The court is the darkest perma-stain on our democracy right now, even if the chief justice presents well as an "umpire," as he modestly and dishonestly told the Senate. In fact, he plays ball as hard as a Republican partisan. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas function openly as Republican operatives and are the best robed arguments for term limits—how about 25 years, Justice Scalia? That's how long he has been on the bench. He who barked, "Get over it," on 60 Minutes about Bush v. Gore. Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy are also likely to sign the death warrant for healthcare reform, though Kennedy postures as the principled man in the middle.
Dispensing with custom and formalities, I wish Obama would talk about the dire emergency state of the Supreme Court. The five conservatives are political players and so should be kicked around in the dust when they come up to bat, to rework Roberts's disarming metaphor. Remember, he is a direct legal descendent of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for whom he clerked. As a Supreme Court clerk, Rehnquist opposed Brown v. Board of Education. Aside from Roger Taney's cruel antebellum court, which infamously held that blacks had no rights and could never be citizens, the Supreme Court has never been more dangerous and regressive than right now.
In Wisconsin's Midwestern near-neighbor, Michigan, a staged reading of Eve Ensler's notable play The Vagina Monologues is going on at the statehouse under the sun. This is to protest a woman legislator's censure for speaking such a word. Tempers are flaring there, yes, and summer hasn't even officially started yet.
It's going to be a hot one.