Everyone knows presidents have larger-than-life size egos. It goes with the job. But changes on the official White House website reveal that we’ve never had a self-regarding narcissist quite like the Oval Office’s current occupant.
They also reveal a fatal flaw in the Obama presidency, which is bad news for the rest of us if Barack Obama wins a second term.
It seems the Obama team has been taking the website’s standard biographies of past presidents and inserting gratuitous references to our Beloved Leader.
That’s led to entries like, “On February 22, 1924 Calvin Coolidge became the first president to make a public radio address to the American people. President Obama became the first president to hold virtual gatherings and town halls using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn etc.” and “On August 14, 1935 President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Today the Obama administration continues to protect senior and ensure Social Security will be there for future generations.”
The only recent president *not* to get the Obama treatment was Gerald Ford. It seems even Obama’s webmaster didn’t want to link his boss to a president best known for tripping over his own feet and pardoning Richard Nixon.
Let’s set aside the colossal ego of someone who treats his predecessors as mere precursors of himself. Indeed, it’s easy to think about how Obama could have extended the comparisons. Eg. “God created the world in six days. President Obama created his first White House jobs summit in just four.”
And set aside the drooling sycophancy of those dreamed up this scheme, and then carried it out.
What’s chilling is that a president who treats his office as nothing more than a prism for reflecting his own virtues, is never going to admit his own policies might be why we are experiencing the slowest economic recovery in modern history, persistent high unemployment, the collapse of respect for America around the world-–and why 70% of polled Americans say we’re on the wrong track.
It takes a strong president to admit a mistake and change course in midstream. Abraham Lincoln decided he couldn’t win the Civil War without renouncing his earlier promises not to interfere with the institution of slavery, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt realized that to arm this country in preparation for World War Two, he had to give up his instinctive dislike of capitalism and turn loose America’s businessmen to build his “arsenal of democracy.”
Harry Truman learned that his initially conciliatory approach to Stalin and the Soviet Union wasn’t working, and embraced a get-tough policy of containment instead.
George W. Bush was willing to scrap three years of failed strategy in Iraq, in order to give General David Petraeus a chance to launch his surge.
And even Bill Clinton, no slouch at self-preening, realized his left-leaning social policies including HilaryCare, were losers and moved to the center instead.
Don’t expect any such change if Obama gets re-elected in November. It’ll be more of the same failed policies, the same game of blaming George Bush and Republicans and the One Percent for everything that’s going wrong.
And if we don’t thank him for the wreckage he leaves behind, it’ll be our failing, not his.
The White House website will say so.
Historian Arthur Herman is author "The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization" (Random House 2013).