Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

But Enough About Me . . . What do YOU think of ME?

We all know people to whom that old joke can apply. And such people are amusing, entertaining, and sometimes even thoughtful or great teachers. But Bill Kristol rightly asks whether that quality of always being "self-referential" ought to be indulged in a President.

Obama is certainly not the first modern president to be overly-impressed with himself and his "journey." Bill Clinton famously peppered his speeches with a plethora of "me"s and "I"s--but his stories about himself were so self-serving (and sometimes, clearly, invented) that people tended to be more amused than moved by him. He could work a room like nobody’s business if it were filled with folks inclined to be unreflective . . . but after awhile, even the dullest wit had to concede that his stories had begun to grow stale and to fill the air with the powerful odor of BS. He now stands as a kind of cartoon monument to himself. Clinton always had ready acolytes who would rush to his defense, of course. But the more intelligent among them always knew what they were about and, in their better moments, exhibited some shame in it. They were selling out for the sake of their favored policy prescriptions and they were willing to deal with a minor little devil like Clinton for the sake of something they regarded as higher than themselves. What were a few sacrificial little interns and "trailer park" women to that? What of it if the guy liked to talk about himself and, in so doing, sent a spark of thrill up the legs of TV talking heads? It was part of the game of selling their wares and, for awhile, it seemed to work.

But Barack Obama is a different sort of narcissist. He isn’t of that cheap "trailer park" variety--the kind who gets so swept up in trying to please an adoring public that he tries to become the guy he’s invented . . . Barack Obama is much more clever. He is the thinking man’s narcissist--and he would much rather have you become the kind of public that he thinks he deserves than to bend himself to suit you. Obama can weave a tale so lofty that a mere recounting of his mother waking him up early as a child seems the whispering of prophecy from an angel at dawn near the shoulder of a future American redeemer. The personal relationship he describes himself as having with the Constitution and American principles seems to speak less of their greatness than of his potential. They are great, it seems, mainly because of what they have meant to him and what they have allowed him to become. It all begs the question, "What if he had failed?" Would their majesty have been diminished in that failure or would he, Barack Obama, have been the sole proprietor of it? As Kristol notes, he seems to imagine that he infuses the office of the presidency with some special power of bargaining and, even, rationality that the office itself cannot hope to possess. The power of the presidency does not seem to be vested in him--at least by his lights--but, rather, it exists because of him.

Whether sophisticated or bumbling and comedic, this level of self-regard when exhibited in the presidency is something that should not escape notice. It may be that the sophisticated version will be able to carry on unnoticed for a longer time and with less obvious tragic consequences. But pride really does seem to "goeth" before a fall. The tragedy of Bill Clinton--though suffered for a time by the nation--has receded comfortably into a kind of tragi-comedy and the effects it produced are felt most keenly, I think, by those who most deserve them. In Barack Obama’s case, if tragedy follows on the heels of this pride, I think it may be a deeper and more engaging kind of tragedy for the nation as a whole. For it is we who are bending toward his story and not his story that is bending toward us.

Discussions - 15 Comments

#1: Won't someone block this vile individual?

Good post, Julie. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that President Obama is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of the Left's. I imagine he's been told all his life how special and unique he was. First by his mother and grandparents (nothing wrong with that), then by academics and politicians who saw him as the avatar and champion of their cause. It reminds me of the movie "The Last Emperor".

Some cheap shots here, Mrs. Ponzi. What you say could be said of almost any modern politician on the national level.

This is a little off topic, but does anyone else notice how everyone in the Obama Administration has taken to going "ummm..." "ahhh..." "errrr..." throughout all their press conferences? President Obama tends not to do it when he has a teleprompter, but I think he started it. Press secretary Robert Gibbs has taken to doing it all the time, and today I heard Hillary Clinton doing it! It is so annoying; I had to focus to hear her words and not her "ummm..."s. It's like the boss on "Office Space": they take for granted they're being listened to and don't worry about the delivery.

What the right wing hates in Obama it sees as manly-man confidence in conservatives. Ponzi was drooling over the manly Bush and Rumsfeld leading us into war.

@andrew: so if you think someone should be banned from the site for writing that, do you think mark levin should be pulled off the radio for saying it to a caller in the first place?

Rusty/Mark Levin/Jonas brother: please stop trolling on this site. There are plenty of people who virulently disagree with most of what gets said on this website and manage not to sink to your hateful and creepy depths when expressing their dissent. If you have something substantive to add to the arena of ideas, do so, otherwise there are plenty of other sites you can post on that cater to your peculiar manner of making a point.

Kinda harsh, but I think our President has been able to get away with this while in contained (academic/governmental) environments, surrounded by mostly white and pliant liberals.
Now, not so much.

He is an actor reading from a script just like his predacessors. He is quit good at it though, I heard a commentator remark that he is the best liar he has ever seen...even better than Clinton at looking you right in the eye and lying.

I have to laugh at this criticism of Obama as the tele-promptor president. Reagan retired that award for eternity. Once off-script he was truly bizarre in person and in public, wandering off into space. I can only conclude that when the right makes such a criticism of Obama, it does so because it is aiming the remark at young people who never saw Reagan unscripted, and can now conveniently and strategically say that BOTH political sides raise the criticism of the tele-promptor crutches, thus taking the heat off of Reagan.

ren, how do you know that about Reagan? That is not the Reagan that I saw on television in debates or in many and varied impromptu and conversational encounters. You really haven't got a clue about this or all sorts of things. Truly, your ignorance can be stunning, as it is here.

Obama & Co. seem to be marketing him all the time. I can't remember a president being in our faces as much as this guy. It is as if the mistake of the Bush administration that he most wishes to avoid is the lack of communication about policy, though we don't get much about principle. Obama making legend of himself is part of a larger sales job. If the nation keeps focused on him as leader, then perhaps it will not be so bothered about where he is leading us. If he is narcissist, then he may be too busy looking at himself to bother about where he is taking us, confident that he does not make missteps. Yes, if true, that is frightening.

#7: Excellent points, Mr. Deco. It has to do with the fact that the Left is thoroughly convinced they are on the side of "History", thus, the need for actual debate is over. It's not the substance that matters to them, but the delivery, and President Obama sounds good while saying nothing. Since he doesn't have experience, expertise, or accomplishment in anything, he has to win the masses over by convincing them he is like them: this requires him to talk about himself.

To Kate in #11, you should read about Reagan from sources other than Lawler or D'Souza. How about Didion or Tulis? Heck even Deaver's memoirs or Larry Speakes talk about Reagan as a marionette. How about his remarks to Shamir about filming Nazi death camps for the Signal Corps? Reagan off the tele-promptor was a thrill-a-minute, and all the 'age of reagan' volumes cannot change that.

ren, I see what you want, now. If a mind full of facts and figures equal intelligence and the retention and regurgitation of those makes for good politicians, then which presidents should we love? Herbert Hoover had an amazing memory for facts and figures. Do you think he was a great president? Honestly, as convoluted and inconsistent as I find his political philosophy, I would prefer him to the incumbent. As to Reagan, give me "horse sense", common sense and a vision of (or merely a prejudice towards) individual liberty over the kind of intelligence you want in a president, any day.

Another way to put it, Kate, is that there is a significant difference between intelligence and political wisdom or judgment. The "intelligent" ren discusses may be useful . . . but they are most often better suited to be hired out as advisors and subordinates. Someone with judgment and political wisdom probably does not (and maybe even should not) have the kind of command of facts and details that ren seeks.

Reagan the Great Communicator, The Reagan Diaries, Reagan in His Own Hand

I thought the publication of those books, of his own work, had put to rest the image of Reagan as intellectually deficient. I guess not.

I have heard it said that he was never quite the same after being shot. I don't know, and maybe I am deluded, but as far as I can tell, he was the best president of my lifetime. People who disagree with his premises naturally think he was a fool. I agree with his premises and so I take Jack Beatty and David Stockman less seriously than you do.

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