If there were no Barack Obama, Barack Obama would dream of him

Published two months ago but coming to my attention this evening, this David Bromwich dissection of Barack Hussein Obama’s conception of the presidency indulges in the speculative psychology that partisans can treat like a loaded weapon in the same room as a wounded animal, but I can’t argue with its tracing of the arc of his career. If Ronald Reagan incarnated conservatism in 1979 and 1980, Barack Obama incarnates Barack Obamaism akin to Laurence Olivier’s Crassus’ vision of Rome as shared in Spartacus: Rome is an eternal thought in the mind of God. If there were no Barack Obama, Barack Obama would dream of him:

Obama entered the presidency at 47 — an age at which people as a rule are pretty much what they are going to be. It is a piece of mystification to suppose that we have been denied a rescue that this man, under happier circumstances, would have been well equipped to perform. There have been a few genuine shocks: on domestic issues he has proven a more complacent technocrat than anyone could have imagined — a facet of his character that has emerged in his support for the foundation-driven testing regimen “Race to the Top,” with its reliance on outsourcing education to private firms and charter schools. But the truth is that Obama’s convictions were never strong. He did not find this out until his convictions were tested, and they were not tested until he became president.

Perhaps the thin connection between Obama’s words and his actions does not support the use of the word “conviction” at all. Let us say instead that he mistook his preferences for convictions — and he can still be trusted to tell us what he would prefer to do. Review the record and it will show that his first statement on a given issue generally lays out what he would prefer. Later on, he resigns himself to supporting a lesser evil, which he tells us is temporary and necessary. The creation of a category of permanent prisoners in “this war we’re in” (which he declines to call “the war on terror”) was an early and characteristic instance. Such is Obama’s belief in the power and significance of his own words that, as he judges his own case, saying the right thing is a decent second-best to doing the right thing.

Aware of the vituperation hurled by a Republican party closer to a pathology than a coalition of reconcilable interests, Bromwich nevertheless doesn’t account for what presidential model would work in 2014. As for Obama, surely the tragedy is to dream of a cult of aspirationists lobbying for legislation in a branch of government which the opposition neither acknowledges or respects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: