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Works and Days

The President Who Never Was

December 8th, 2011 - 10:44 am

A Teen-age President in Search of an Adult Identity

Barack Obama keeps looking for a presidential identity not his own. In 2008, he wished to be JFK — whom he often referenced as a youthful and charismatic figure supposedly similar to himself. So we heard references to Obama’s father’s arrival to the U.S. during the golden Kennedy Camelot years. Caroline Kennedy herself came out of seclusion to assure us that Obama had the same Kennedy zest, and she flirted with a Senate run to help restore the lost age of grandeur. And at the Brandenburg Gate, Obama would have liked to electrify Europeans with another Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech. But even the left-leaning Germans sorta balked at that, and relegated the new Galahad to the Victory Column — a nice enough gesture that earned them a snub when a later President Obama chose not to go to Berlin for the commemoration of the twenty year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (But flying ad hoc to Copenhagen to lobby for the Chicago Olympics is a horse of a different color.)

The New Gipper

Next candidate Obama channeled his inner Ronald Reagan. He reminded us that that he too had a sense of a new “trajectory.” His supporters swore that he had the same sunny disposition and eloquence. Obama liked that new persona. Soon he was talking about being the same “transformative” president, as long as we understood that Obama was going to be Reaganesque solely in the way he campaigned and soared with “hope and change” rhetoric — a sort of ironic payback to the Reagan Revolution as Obama mimicked the Gipper’s personal talents to undue his legacy.

Young Mr. Lincoln

That did not last long. When he won the election, Obama now referenced the Civil War, slavery, and the civil rights struggle as he became the Great Emancipator to finally bind up the nation’s wounds. So he was for a bit Barack Lincoln. I mean this literally and to such a degree that he chartered a slow train from Springfield to DC in December 2008, to remind us that it had been 148 years since a similar messiah had trained from Illinois to Washington to save the Union. Aides got copies of Team of Rivals, since Obama had long seen himself as a saintly Lincoln in magnanimous fashion bringing in former political opponents who perhaps were more experienced but surely less talented than himself. A Biden or Hillary as Seward or Stanton?

Hyde Park Redux

But when he assumed office, there being no Civil War, Obama of Chicago Hyde Park now channeled FDR of New York Hyde Park to meet the same crisis of yet another Great Depression induced by Bush/Hoover. The “100 Days” of 1933 were upon us again. Those were the glory moments, as the White House let it be known, when a new FDR would bookend Social Security with Obamacare. That did not last too long —given the fury over the health care machinations, the Tea Party, 9% plus unemployment, the horrendous new debt, and the greatest mid-term setback since Roosevelt’s own in 1938.

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