Mirror, mirror on the wall

Politico looks at President Obama's assessment of himself in a 60 Minutes interview. His achievements, he said, can only possibly be exceeded by three modern Presidents. "The president’s claim didn’t air in the show’s Dec. 11 television broadcast but was included in the full interview video that CBS posted on its website that day."

The “60 Minutes Overtime” video shows Obama telling correspondent Steve Kroft:

“The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Whether or not President Obama is really the fourth greatest chief executive in modern history is for posterity to judge. The interesting thing, however, is that he thinks he is. Winston Churchill once said of Clement Atlee “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. Indeed he has a lot to be modest about.” But where do people who think they are the greatest get the idea of their superlative excellence?

Usually by lookng back in awe.

When Li'l Wayne proclaimed himself the "best rapper alive" he did so on the basis of over a million sales in a single week. Similarly but on a grander scale, when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French Empire, he actually was.

By contrast when Joshua Abraham Norton of San Francisco, California, proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States" in 1859 and subsequently "Protector of Mexico" he was none of the above, except in his own mind.

President Obama, in making his claim,  actually felt himself quite modest. "I didn't overpromise", he said. Had he been inclined to gild the lily, who knows to which Presidents he might have compared himself?

But in laying claim to his achievements, the President omitted to note one vital thing: all of his triumphs are still in the future. They are not yet in the past.  And that is the reason people are not as grateful to him as they should be.

As he himself says in the 60 Minutes interview transcript, "that's the recipe for success that I think the American people are hungry for. It's just, right now, they haven't seen enough of it yet". Just everyone wait and see. But in the meantime, he is prepared to endure the mockery and scorn of those who haven't realized just how wise he is.

Harry Truman, now lionized, you know? "Give 'em hell, Harry." At the time, everybody was calling him a complete and utter disaster. F.D.R., people, for the first couple of years of his presidency, were saying, "What he's doing's not working." ... So this all comes with the territory, but this isn't about me. This isn't about me.

Certainly not. It is about service to the country, building a dream, discerning the far horizon. And so he is willing to endure the slings and arrows of his myopic critics, because he, unencumbered by "privilege" knows that it will all turn out magnificently in the end.

Now, we're not there yet, but what I can say unequivocally is that everything I've done, every single day, and everything I will do as long as I'm in this office is designed to make sure that every kid in America has the same opportunities that I had.

Because I didn't come from privilege. I've said before and I mean this -- this is the only country on Earth where my story is possible. And if I, as the child of a single mom, raised by a couple of grandparents -- one of whom would never have got more than a high school degree, the other of whom got some college because of the G.I. Bill -- was able to succeed. And my wife, who was the daughter of a blue-collar worker and a secretary was able to become First Lady of the United States.

The passage in which he anticipates his vindication -- indeed his affirmation by posterity is clearly prospective; it hasn't happened yet, but it might as well have, as he confidently surveys his works as seen through the eyes of faith in himself.

KROFT: Tell me, what do you consider your major accomplishments? If this is your last speech. What have you accomplished?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we're not done yet. I've got five more years of stuff to do. But not only saving this country from a great depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we're gonna start lowering health care costs and you're never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure. Making sure that we've got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we've expanded student loans and made college more affordable. Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. Restoring America's respect around the world.

The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president -- with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln -- just in terms of what we've gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we've got a lot more work to do. And we're gonna keep on at it.

What a great thing it would be if he were right. But Kroft never asked the question, 'what if you are wrong? What if you turn out to be the Emperor Norton instead of the Emperor Napoleon?' The "precautionary principle" so revered in the Green Science the President puts so much store by, is nowhere in evidence. Perhaps because there is no need to be cautious about a sure thing.

But some cynics insist upon looking a gift horse in the mouth and maintain there is only one way to answer that question: that time will tell. Until then President Obama's opinion of himself remains just that: an opinion. He may be right. The alternative is unpleasant to consider.


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