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Jan 20

Morbid comparisons?

George W. Bush spent his last day making phone calls to foreign leaders. Our President didn’t make the cut. While I think Amando Doronila is exaggerating the possible antipathy between the incoming Obama White House and the present domestic dispensation, our government might reasonably expect sublime indifference from Washington.

Tonight, our time, the United States inaugurates a new president. The Americans, like the French, are masters at creating spectacles that glitter with the pomp of republican democracy. The event unfolding tonight in Washington, D.C. will be no exception.

The Americans, like the French, are masters of republican pomp. The Americans have a particular knack for combining tradition and Hollywood-style spectacle.

As the inaugural unfolds, there are commentaries and comparisons aplenty concerning Obama and his predecessors. The new President himself is interested in history, believes it has lessons to teach him; an interesting account of his reading habits is in From Books, New President Found Voice.

In a commentary in Slate, Fred Kaplan argues Forget FDR and Lincoln; Obama Is Most Like JFK:

Obama seems to grasp the connection. In his weekly YouTube addresses, he has placed three leather-bound books just behind him and to his right. Take a close look. They’re the three-volume edition of The Public Papers of John F. Kennedy. Clearly this is a man who understands iconography.

Though it’s interesting that beyond the nod to Camelot mentioned above, the focus of many commenters seems to be less on JFK and more on other Presidents. Could it be that Camelot has been too tarnished by books such as “The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power” (Garry Wills), in which, as one review put it,

Truth, however, being all too often inconvenient, was from the beginning, Mr. Wills contends, a commodity the Kennedys treated with wary disrespect. So much more reliable -hence more useful – was ”image,” which could be manipulated as effortlessly as the tiller of one of their sailboats, and in the propagation of which the family could enlist the enthusiastic aid of seemingly limitless echelons of upwardly mobile lawyers, journalists and academicians who craved the status that accompanied annointment (informal, yet unmistakable) as an ”honorary Kennedy” – a term Mr. Wills borrows from Victor Navasky.

The essential lesson of Camelot being that all that glitters isn’t political gold.

So then more understandable, perhaps, is Obama’s having consciously invoked Abraham Lincoln -including using the Bible used by Lincoln in his first inaugural. Much has been made by the candidate and commenters on his appreciation of “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” (Doris Kearns Goodwin).

But there are comparisons, too -though more common, perhaps, among the historically-minded than the public- to Franklin D. Roosevelt. See Will FDR Inspire Obama? After all, FDR instituted the importance of the “First 100 Days” for a presidency. It’s interesting that Time Magazine decided to put together an issue with a cover superimposing Obama’s face on a photograph of FDR. And will have an article on The New New Deal.

I suppose comparisons with another president -Andrew Jackson- are viewed as politically incorrect, since Jackson was a slaveholder. Yet there is something of a Jacksonian flair for populism in the way the inaugural’s been painted to represent a kind of Big Block of Cheese moment.

Most remarkable, though, and could it be there’s a certain foreboding at the back of people’s minds, an implied apprehension, concerning the new administration? All the comparisons involve presidents who died in office. Two of them, Lincoln and Kennedy, at the hand of an assassin, the other, FDR, who died in harness, exhausted and having made such a mark that a constitutional amendment was passed to prevent a three, much less four-term president from ever happening again?

14 comments

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  1. BrianB

    Americans aren’t superstitious. Also, the world doesn’t care about how Obama compares with other US presidents. Stabilizing the US economy and investment on alternative energies will have lasting global effect. Obama, my belief is, will have the simplest US administration possible. Don’t forget he’s got Congress with him.

    What I’m looking for is an analysis of this situation: executive and legislative is of one party. How does that work out for the Americans? Will it be as straightforward as I think it’ll be, a mere problem-solving government?

  2. mlq3

    It’s not unusual to have one party dominate after a big election. the problem is less the house and more the senate, where the democrats don’t have a majority big enough to vote down every attempt at filibuster. obama himself is keen on bipartisanship and so this has some in his liberal base edgy while the conservatives seem to be tickled pink about obama -so that’s a problem for democratic partisans, too: he’d be careful to portray legislation passed by the senate as a bipartisan achievement instead of the democratic steamroller in action.

  3. Bert

    There is very valid reason to be apprehensive now than the past of what might happen to President Obama, more so because 95% of the colored American voters voted for him and more passionately are rooting for him.

    Potential for total chaos in America if some political lunatics succeeds in killing him while still in office is very real since its armed forces, even if tauted as the strongest in the world, might not be able to contain an upheaval within considering that blacks comprise more or less half of the armed personnel.

    The Secret Service has more daunting and more challenging job to do today than any other US president in the past.

    Btw, I like the new set-up, Manolo.

  4. supremo

    Obama fumbled his oath taking a little bit but I think he’s off to a great start.

  5. Carl

    Morbid comparisons aside, I believe most of the world wishes Obama well. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill for him to succeed and become a great President. Most certainly, for his security and well-being. Most people in the free world have a lot at stake on Obama’s success.

    Despite attempts to appease Republicans, Obama has made his intentions very clear in his inaugural address. He has stated that he will challenge the status quo. That he will prod America to take the mantle of world leadership, unlike his predecessor who unilaterally and selfishly pursued a narrow-minded agenda. That he will uphold accountability, reform bad habits and do business “in the light of day”, unlike the Republican Right’s ridiculous concept of unregulated commercialism and greed which has resulted in this collosal economic mess the world finds itself in.

    I think that trying to find a parallels with Lincoln is more appropriate for Obama. Lincoln was born to humble circumstances and was known for being morally upright. He was neither corrupt nor a philanderer. Despite being very much like the ordinary citizen, Lincoln was a visionary and held lofty goals. He, of course, captivated Americans with his soaring rhetoric, much as Roosevelt, Kennedy and, now, Obama have done. While Roosevelt and Kennedy captivated people’s imagination, they were patricians, not your Everyman. And, specially in the case of JFK, they were discovered to have their moral lapses. I believe that Obama’s strength is that he has managed to maintain a clean image, despite having come from the rough and tumble world of Illinois politics. He may not be naïve, but his morality has not been in doubt.

    Despite the lofty rhetoric, Obama is no wide-eyed idealist. He takes cognizance of the need for competence and has managed to surround himself with experienced, if ideologically bland, administrators. Obama knows that, in the final analysis, he will be judged by the results, not the rhetoric, that he delivers.

  6. Cris Bagsic

    Thanks for the references. Appreciate MUCH.

    History and political science aren’t my fields; so, reading a well-referenced piece helps me get “it” from those perspectives.

    Anyhow, I just hope the euphoria translates to acceptance by Americans/his supporters of the inevitable – and temporary, one hopes- economic pain that a realignment of markets his socio-economic agenda entail. I just hope he continues to get the level of public support he currently enjoys, not just for the Americans’ sake but also for the global economy’s. Public pressure to water down “bitter” solutions to their economic -especially the financial markets and fiscal mess they are in now- problems is the last thing we all need right now, and the one thing that interests which will be deprived of benefits they currently enjoy is sure to exploit.

  7. Carl

    It is worth noting that, on the very afternoon of the day he was sworn in as President, Barack Obama issued orders immediately suspending war crime trials at Guantanamo for 120 days, pending review. This immediately and emphatically marks a clean break with the Bush regime. It also shows that Obama has the balls and the determination to pursue his agenda.

    Although Obama’s immediate priority will have to be the economy, he must allow sectors within and without his party, without having to take a leading role himself, to demand an accounting from the Bush administration, on among other things:

    1. How America ended up fighting a war to eliminate nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and wasting a trillion badly-needed dollars of taxpayers’ money on a very counterproductive war that cost America many lives and earned her animosity from the rest of the world.
    2. How torture became a routine instrument of U.S. policy (read: waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, of which V.P. Cheney remained unrepentant to this very day, and even giving credit to these abuses for “keeping America safe” since 9/11).
    3. How the Justice Department became an instrument of political persecution, specially under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (read: justifications for politically-motivated firings in the bureaucracy, justifications for warrantless domestic wiretapping).
    4. How brazen corruption flourished not only in Iraq, but throughout Congress and the administration (read: sweetheart contracts for arms and supplies used in the Iraq war, Halliburton, mismanagement of Typhoon Katrina).

    Without appearing harsh and vindictive, the Obama administration must make sure that the Republican Right is discredited and that they are exposed for their chicanery and hypocrisy. The American people must never be allowed to be fooled again by the Republican Right with its phony promises and dreams of untold wealth that were promoted by Reaganism and the sophomoric philosophies of Ayn Rand.

    The Republican Party must be exposed for what it is: the party of the greed, individualism and selfishness. There is no such thing as “enlightened self-interest”, “ethical egoism” or “rational selfishness” just as George W. Bush proved, in the course of his administration, that there was never any such thing as a “compassionate conservative”. All of this is gobbledygook designed to mislead foolish Americans into thinking that each one of them could be the next Bill Gates or Donald Trump. This kind of mentality only dupes people into getting sucked into materialistic dreams. It negates the virtues of altruism and selflessness. It makes for a very materialistic, very unforgiving society.

    The youth of America have realized this. Unlike their parents they have not been sucked into the siren song of materialism and greed that Republican administrations since Nixon and Reagan have been playing on the people. That is why the youth went for Obama in droves. While not entirely rejecting material objectives, they feel a need to reach out and be less self-absorbed.

  8. Bren

    Because of the flub during yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony, President Obama has re-taken the oath as 44th president of the USA (reports the mainstream/cable news channels).

    Also a minor note to BrianB — one of President Obama’s serious challenges will come from mini-cliques within the Democratic Party, not only from the pro-LaborUnion groups but also from the fiscal conservatives among the Black Caucus.

  9. TonGuE-tWisTeD

    The new layout is a welcome aesthetic improvement, though the main header image doesn’t load and the boxes of text and graphics crowd each other. A little tweaking of the css will be sufficient. I’m commenting on the form not the substance because Carl here has said all that I had wanted to say. Great comments, Carl.

    Re: Morbid comparisons, I would recommend you read Weiner on Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-weiner/his-excellency-barack-oba_b_159736.html

  10. AdB

    Must say I find your new layout phenomenal!

  11. Bren

    Words from the new USA president…. or didn’t I hear the same words said 7 or 8 years ago by the then White House resident?

    We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

  12. J_AG

    “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

    Not quite…. People will have to understand the important shift in emphasis from the War on Terror which was silly to begin with to the proper perspective on terrorism which is a tactic to gain political advantage. “…for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror…..

    In the dialectics of politics, armed struggle is part of the debate. Terrorism is part of the tactics.

    The War on Terror was stupid since you cannot make war on war.

    Obama’s government will not make that serious mistake in definition.

    On another note;

    Anyone can engage Hamas directly if you wish..You could clarify your points directly with a member of Hamas. They are involved in a total war to with Israel as Israel is also involved in a total war. You can email the Hamas directly to get their point of view.

    Go link below:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/22/gaza-israel-palestine-hamas-obama

    In fact the Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai promised a “shoa” on the people of Gaza as punishment for the rockets that fell on Sderot.

    “This latest war — called Operation Cast Lead — is the “holocaust” promised by Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai last spring when he said Israel would create a shoa if Qassem rockets kept dropping on Israeli towns like Sderot. Shoa, Hebrew for holocaust, is a serious word denoting the extermination of an entire people. Vilnai embarrassed the Israeli government, and no official has used the term since.”

    Ellen Cantarow, Alternet.org

  13. PhilwoSpEditor

    Hmmm, interesting take there Bren on the entry Thu, 22nd Jan 2009 1:02 pm …

    Anyway, what I find more interesting as his 100 day performance would go, as my former EIC had pointed out, is that some of Obama’s appointees are in many ways his equals, if not those who have more capability and experience than him, since he only became a 1-time senator before deciding to run.

    Besides that, I don’t really want to fuzz over a tiny mistake that was quickly rectified. Just as long as he doesn’t have that moral lapse about women like JFK or even Bill Clinton…

  14. UP n grad

    PhilWoSpEditor…. that goodness that Filipinos and Filipinas worry about sexual turpitude. Let me request you again to be especialy vigilant of crimes against children. The action is to be supportive of those NGO’s and charities that provide housing and other support to ndigent and orphaned Filipino children; Get these kids out of the streets and into safer facilities so that you see less in shopping malls, in churches, in LRT stations those old men with 15-or-younger kids who are not likely to be their grandchildren.

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