No president in modern times has managed to conceal so much of his biography as this one. The journalists assigned to the Obama beat seem to have lost their traditional avidity for digging out the missing details. We do not have a medical report, or a college transcript from Columbia, or a notion of how well he did in Harvard Law School.
These things are not automatically significant, but they can be. Nobody thinks the president has some basic medical problem. He shows every sign of being in excellent physical condition. But so did John F. Kennedy, who turned out to have had Addison’s Disease, and was taking steroids and pain killers, which had an effect on his performance. We didn’t know it at the time. We should have.
What did Obama study? With whom? How well did he do? Obama occasionally says things that are uncharacteristic of cultured persons, as when he flubs the number of states in the U.S., or when he seems to believe that they speak “Austrian” in Vienna. Are these just occasional slips of the tongue? Or did his college and law school years show a pattern of ignorance? We’re entitled to know these things, but there is a disappointing, albeit quite predictable, lack of curiosity by the usual suspects in the media hunter/killer packs.
A great quantity of newsprint was filled with criticism of the Bushitlercheney insistence on secrecy, and rightly so. Critics, and even would-be friends of the Bush Administration, were encouraged to believe all kinds of nonsense, much of which was fueled by the administration’s famous inability to explain what it was doing, and why. In like manner, the stonewalling of basic information about Obama fuels dark suspicion about the very legitimacy of his presidency, as in the ongoing demand that he prove his constitutional qualification for the office.
Lacking the basic information, we must use the old tools. We must infer, deduce, and guess. We have to parse his words and compare them with his actions. He himself insists on this. In March, when the North Koreans launched a rocket in the teeth of multiple international warnings, Obama insisted that “words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.” He rightly insisted that mere talk wasn’t good enough, because if warnings were ignored and no price was subsequently paid, warnings would become meaningless. Without action, words mean nothing.
A joint U.S.-Europe declaration reiterated this theme, noting that North Korea was developing “the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction. This action demands a response from the international community, including from the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate that its resolutions cannot be defied with impunity.”
Which brings me to his little-analyzed recent speech in the Capitol on the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, a theme inevitably close to the heart and soul of our first black president. Some of it is Obama at his best, elegant, spare, right to the point. He made a point near to my heart, which is often forgotten in the history of fascism:
It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses…
Yes, fascism and Nazism came from two of the most advanced and most cultured Western societies, Italy and Germany. And the institutions of those societies were enlisted in the service of the Holocaust, with precious little protest from the most cultured and advanced individuals in those societies.
the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands…
Those words about bureaucracy, “that sustains modern life,” are a useful window into the way Obama views government. He loves government, especially his own. But he’s got the Nazi story wrong. The bureaucracy that conducted the mass murders was largely military, and the most important component was not part of the bureaucracy, or even the traditional army, but rather the SS, which was tied directly to the Fuhrer, not to the old German state.