July 30th, 2008

On acting Presidential (or kingly)

In recent decades, as the Presidential races have become more like advertising campaigns and less like contests about the issues, there’s been a great deal of attention paid to “acting Presidential.” Some of it is reasonable, an attempt to size up a candidate’s character in order to understand what sort of President he/she would make. But much of it has become cosmetic: how firm the jaw, how vibrant the voice, how tall and erect the stance.

Perhaps it started with television and the Nixon-Kennedy debates, when those who listened on radio tended to judge Nixon the victor while those who watched on TV favored the upstart Kennedy. Just as Kennedy was more telegenic than Nixon, there’s no question Obama has it all over the opposition on looks and the projection of whatever is superficially “Presidential.”

But now Obama has taken “acting Presidential” to new heights—or depths, depending on how you look at it. He has started to act as though he were already President.

It began on his triumphal World Tour, in which he was treated as the heir to the Presidency and seemed to court that perception. And it continues, according to Dana Milbank in today’s WaPO, in a piece aptly titled “President Obama Continues His Hectic Victory Tour.”

Lest you think the title hyperbole, read the entire article. Obama is continuing to consider himself, and is increasingly being treated as, President-in-waiting rather than an ordinary candidate. This is partly a result of the strangely hypnotic effect he seems to have on people. But it’s an effect he carefully orchestrates and obviously enjoys, despite his intermittent words of humility.

Milbank writes that when Obama addressed a group of Congressional members earlier this week he said:

“This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

It’s not insignificant that it’s a symbolism only. A symbol is a figurehead, an inspirational figure that is a sort of metaphor, not a person expected to have an actual record of accomplishment in the real world. In addition, much of the world seems to be cooperating in Obama’s elevation to Head Emblem of Whatever It Is We Need Him To Be:

Some say the supremely confident Obama—nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that “the odds of us winning are very good”—has become a president-in-waiting. But in truth, he doesn’t need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions.

Come to think of it, maybe the best status for Obama would be that of monarch, of the type reigning in present-day England. After all, it’s the ultimate symbolic position: no accomplishments necessary, no policy commitments involved, once you’re in you’re in for life, you get to go on all those fine world tours, the clothes are classic, and speeches are heavily featured.

[NOTE: As for those Nixon-Kennedy debates (which I watched on TV as a child, and it was Kennedy all the way for me), I just learned the following interesting information (I knew about the lack of makeup, but not the rest):

Nixon had seriously injured his knee and spent two weeks in the hospital. By the time of the first debate he was still twenty pounds underweight, his pallor still poor. He arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt, and refused make-up to improve his color and lighten his perpetual "5:00 o'clock shadow." Kennedy, by contrast, had spent early September campaigning in California. He was tan and confident and well-rested. "I had never seen him looking so fit," Nixon later wrote.

In retrospect, it is interesting to note how deceiving those looks were. Kennedy was already a very sick man, and Nixon went on to live a long and relatively healthy life.]

28 Responses to “On acting Presidential (or kingly)”

  1. gcotharn Says:

    Ten days ago, I spent several hours touring the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. While the building’s exterior does, hilariously, resemble a trailer house; it’s interior is very nice, drawing sunlight in vey effectively. The public exhibits are very interactive, very appropriate for us Wal-Mart type tourists – drawing us further and further into their intrigues.

    Beyond the Library building itself, I was reacquainted with my conviction that anytime I am hearing Bill Clinton talking, I am hearing horse manure. I purchased an audio walking tour. To my horror, Pres. Clinton would personally introduce almost every exhibit in my ear. About 5 to 10 words into every introduction, I would remove his voice from my ear, as I couldn’t bear to endure any more of his horse manure intro.

    I was also strongly reminded of Pres. Clinton’s attempts to look as if he were addressing a problem. The Library has sections which explore maybe 22 or so aspects of Pres. Clinton’s time in office. On issue after issue, Pres. Clinton maneuvered to look as if he were doing something … even as he was actually doing nothing. The conclusion of several sections would be something like: President Clinton therefore commissioned a blue ribbon panel on the issue. [The End] Pres. Clinton was mostly only an action Pres. when he was claiming credit for acceding to Repub. pressure, such as in signing Welfare Reform.

    I bring this up b/c neo writes of Obama essentially presenting an image as if an image is actually something real. That’s what Pres. Clinton did. On all issues, he tried to present an image of a man taking positive action. That he actually took little or no action was of no consequence. He LOOKED LIKE he was taking action. That was the key thing.

    I haven’t been to other Presidential libraries. However, the Clinton Library is a place where the eternal campaign goes on just as surely as JFK’s eternal flame burns. Forevermore, inside his library, President Clinton is working hard to convince us he was a wonderful President. The campaign never ends.

  2. Terrye Says:

    I am getting the feeling that Obama views this is a coronation, not an election. It is his birthright or something. The actual process of voting is just a technicality for the man. It is not as if he has to earn the right to be president, oh noo, it is us who have to earn the right to be Americans. And we can only do that by voting for Obama and returning America to what it was meant to be.

    Creeps me out.

  3. Fausta Says:

    And let’s not forget that he is working on “being the part”, which is basic to a realization of the self-esteem bullsh’t we are so imbued with from an early age.

  4. strcpy Says:

    “On all issues, he tried to present an image of a man taking positive action. That he actually took little or no action was of no consequence.”

    Were Obama to just do that I wouldn’t worry – for the most part it was what I expected of Hillary had she been elected. At the time I thought Clinton one of the worst presidents in a long while, I no longer think so (I think he will come down as one of the more *corrupt*, just not bad). He didn’t *do* anything to make him good or bad. Even the vast majority of his corruption was more personal.

    “it is us who have to earn the right to be Americans.”

    Very true – and it is (I think) one of the things that many of his supporters are liking. They, and they alone, have *earned* the right to be called an American. They did so through anti-war protests, political rallies, and all that other stuff that is supposedly what they have been telling us “real patriots” do.

    To a fairly large extent the general conservative mindset is individualism and the liberal mindset is collectivism (for those that truly believe, not just do something because that what they have always done). It is part of the reason that talk radio is dominated by conservatives (most of us listen/read and move on to the next person, not participate in a community) and the left dominates the web (through community based sites).

    The idea that one must earn the right to be in the group of “real Americans” is *highly* attractive to the left and most liberals. Obama is being *exactly* what they have wanted for ages – the ability to be welcomed into that special select group is the “hope” they been looking for and I am sure they are flabbergasted by us being afraid of their rapture.

  5. kcom Says:

    But now Obama has taken ‘acting Presidential’ to new heights—or depths, depending on how you look at it. He has started to act as though he were already President.

    Nancy Pelosi tried that trick, too, when the Democrats first regained the majority. I honestly believe she thought she had somehow been elected co-president. She then took it upon herself to jet off to foreign capitals and make foreign policy pronouncements like she had the authority to do that sort of thing under the Constitution. No disrespect to the House of Representatives, but if either of the two Congressional bodies are, by law and tradition and temperament, more involved in the foreign policy arena it’s the Senate, not the House. Perhaps Ms. Pelosi’s hubris in grabbing for more than she had rightfully earned is one reason Congressional approval is now at 9% and her fortunes have not quite taken the arc she so obviously anticipated.

    (Of course, Newt Gingrich made a similar mistake and suffered as well. Ms. Pelosi at least had the benefit of his example to learn from, yet those lessons seem to have been lost on her.)

    I guess I’m wondering if a similar scenario might play out with Obama. He’s certainly attempting to grab much more than he’s rightfully earned at this point. He’s not even run a full presidential campaign, let alone won the office. And his past record of accomplishment is spotty, to put it charitably. Hubris and overweening (favorite word there) pride are generally not very attractive on a person. Maybe Obama thinks he can get away with it (if he’s even aware that’s how he’s acting). Or maybe the whole thing has just gone to his head and he doesn’t know which way is up any more.

    Respect for the office of President and the humility necessary to use it wisely doesn’t seem overly apparent in Obama’s words and demeanor lately. He seems to think its his due, not a duty the public might place in his hands. If pride goeth before the fall, I hope the fall comes soon enough. Before the Fall, in fact. :) Having a neophyte egomaniac as president is not something that instills confidence in the future for me. The Oval Office is not a playpen.

  6. Teri Pittman Says:

    I’ve heard tell that the folks who listened to the Kennedy/Nixon debates on the radio thought that Nixon won them. I’m sort of in a similar position, since I don’t have tv and no real desire to watch any of the video clips of Obama. I sure don’t enjoy listening to him speak. I think I’ve said it before, but he always reminds me of those big rallies for Hitler, complete with fainting women. I hope there are not any other parallels but that.

  7. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    “Ten days ago, I spent several hours touring the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.”

    I hear the collection of porno-mags are unparalleled anywhere in the world.


    I guess arrogant megalomaniacs are only a malignancy that the fascist Christian right could possibly have.

    Obama comes from nowhere, knowing nothing other than how to rise to the top by ingratiating himself on who it is he thinks is going to get him where he needs to go, then throwing them over the side just as soon as their usefulness is over.

    The liberals liked to repeat the saying that when democracy dies, it will do so wrapped in an American flag, cheered by roaring crowds. They have no idea this could be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  8. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    um, or that they were talking about themselvs.

  9. FredHjr Says:

    Dana Milbank is a dopey sycophant who was clueless as to the impact his reportage would have. Milbank reminds me of a lot of undergrads I saw in my undergrad days and in my graduate teaching days on another campus in Obonga’s fair city. They are smart enough to know how to write, but how they reason and think leaves something to be desired. The libs and Commies are in many ways out of touch with how at least half of the U.S. processes information.

    Milbank may have gone to Yale, but an Ivy League graduate is not necessarily any more intelligent than a solid student from a state university. The Obonga campaign managers must be tearing their hair out over this one. When your supporters unknowingly undermine a carefully cultivated image of the candidate it surely makes your job much tougher.

  10. Colonel Angus Says:

    A little perspective, please.

    George W. Bush is the son of a president, the grandson of senator and the brother of governor.

    He fell into politics not after carefully plotting a path up through academia and law, but after failing in the oil business and recovering from that by buying a baseball team.

    I wonder how entitled he felt?

    Not that I care much. I oppose Bush because I don’t like his policies, end of story. His family could be British royalty for all I care.

  11. renminbi Says:

    Looking at Intrade, Callowman’s odds are starting to drop in a big way. The public may be foolish, but they are not infinitely so.

  12. Occam's Beard Says:

    A little more perspective. Edward Kennedy is the son of an ambassador, rum runner, and stock manipulator, the brother of a President, two Senators and a Presidential candidate, who was kicked out of Harvard for cheating on a Spanish (!) exam. He’s never had a job in his life, not even lifeguard, which would have come in handy in July 1969, after which he bleated about how he now would never become President.

    I wonder how entitled he felt?

    Or Al Gore, the son of a Representative and a Senator, a towering intellect who flunked out of law and divinity school (no mention of cosmetology school).

    I wonder how entitled he felt?

    Come to think of it, I guess anyone who followed the 2000 election can answer that question.

  13. kcom Says:

    I wonder how entitled he [George Bush] felt?

    Funny, I don’t remember the press falling all over themselves reinforcing that notion. That alone makes your comparison quite weak. George Bush was the underdog during his entire campaign, and never the “anointed one”. He might have desired the presidency (as everyone running for the office must, in some way) but he never had anything close to the free ride that Obama has received from many quarters so far.

  14. vanderleun Says:

    Well, there’s always Rudyard Kipling’s short story: The Man who would be King and we all remember how that turned out.

  15. Jim C. Says:

    The debate article is a bit misleading. Apparent tanning is a symptom of one of JFK’s medical problems, Addison’s Disease.

    Colonel Angus wrote, “George W. Bush is the son of a president, the grandson of senator and the brother of governor…I wonder how entitled he felt?”

    The point is that you wonder far less with Obama. His own actions, such as trying to get the Brandenburg Gate as a speaking venue and his short-lived quasi-Presidential seal campaign emblem, bespeak the conviction that he’s practically President already except for the necessary but minor formality of an election.

  16. strcpy Says:

    “George W. Bush is the son of a president, the grandson of senator and the brother of governor.

    He fell into politics not after carefully plotting a path up through academia and law, but after failing in the oil business and recovering from that by buying a baseball team.

    I wonder how entitled he felt?”

    Who knows? As far as I can tell there is nothing to say one way or another. One could also list his failures and note that he worked hard for every bit of it. One could also note that any notions of manifest destiny would have been squashed when his father went from the most popular president in history to a one term’er.

    We could also note that Clinton led a rough life up until he entered politics and then had a meteoric rise to the top (including two terms). This could easily lead him to believe that this was the powers that be (the universe, god, brahmin, whatever) making up for it so he felt entitled. One could also note how hard he worked for it and all the controversy he had.

    In both cases we have no idea how much they felt entitled to their position. My guess is not so much, mainly because they have never done anything to make me think they thought so. Most that really feel entitled to their position have no reason to hide that – after all they are *entitled* to it so why bother? At worst both had a nice big dose of hubris, but then that (unfortunately) kinda goes with job.

    However Obama clearly sees himself as the Anointed One that is to ascend the halls of power and solve the worlds problems. He doesn’t even have any plan other than him just being there (or at least none that he cares to share with us mere mortals). There is no plan past that because *that is all that is needed*. There is no question what he thinks of himself.

    That level of hubris is *not* part of the office but is dangerous. Not so much because of people following him (though if they do strongly enough that is a BIG one), but more because the person has no idea what to do and simply him being there will *not* solve things.

    When a crisis happens there isn’t just a 50/50 chance because there is the “right thing” and the “wrong thing” – there are MANY more wrong things. In fact, there are so few “right things” that they almost never happen (and usually require hindsight to get correct). Obama doesn’t even have “nowsight” – after all why should he being the Anointed One? All he needs do is be there.

    The question is when does the crash happen – before or after election day?

  17. Colonel Angus Says:

    I remain unconvinced that Obama is even a little bit more ego-centric than the average presidential nominee.

    Though I have to admit, even if there were solid evidence that he was, it wouldn’t bother me much.

    Policywise, Obama is not much different from the other Democrats.

    He’s a better leader, I believe, because he has chosen to try to win by expanding the liberal base, rather than by trying to contract the conservative base by peeling off marginal voters, i.e. the Clinton strategy.

    Anyone want to talk about the real issues at stake in this election? Or do we stick to hallucinations about how Obama thinks he’s god??

  18. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    “He’s a better leader, I believe, because he has chosen to try to win by expanding the liberal base, …Anyone want to talk about the real issues at stake in this election?”

    Ok, Let’s talk about gun control…um, never mind…

    FISA?..skip that. NAFTA? We’ll get back to you…Public campaign financing? Talking to depots without preconditions?

    Rather than expand the liberal base, I’d say that the liberal base has set the limits of how far he can shift to the right and still keep their support. The flip-flopping for political expediency can become obvious even to the devoted. Thus the ridiculous statement that even knowing how the surge has turned out, he still would not have approved of it.

    You’re right that Obama is not that much different policy wise than other democrats. He’s not that much different than past democrat presidential candidates in convictionless opportunism either. He’s just so much better with scripted rhetoric and he doesn’t have to pretend at times to be black, he already is. He’s also more infused with a sense of entitlement while having less of a resume than anyone else they’ve fronted.

    Maybe we can talk about invading Pakistan…

    Nah, let’s just stick with “hope” and “change”.

  19. Artfldgr Says:

    you give obama way too much credit…

    those who put him up, have coordinated their ‘friends’ all over the world to do everything they can to get him into office, even if that means making it look like he is already in office.

    this more than anything should show how far and deep the manipulations go.

  20. Occam's Beard Says:

    “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

    Now how can he say something like that with a straight face?

    Next up: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

    Loud guffaws would constitute the appropriate response to either statement.

  21. Artfldgr Says:

    occam, he can say it because he is a socialist. All upper crusty socialists have to lie, if they actually explained what they are doing, no one would side with them.

    Barack Obama’s Stealth Socialism

    to those with enough historical knowlege, obama speaks a clear language. to those who disbelieve that such things can be real, the language affords deniability. it facilitates the denial of those who wish to side in a personal version with the situation, but not be responsible for the outcome.

    make no bones about it, all the communists around the globe have been ordered to facilitate this change agent.

    During his NAACP speech earlier this month, Sen. Obama repeated the term at least four times. “I’ve been working my entire adult life to help build an America where economic justice is being served,” he said at the group’s 99th annual convention in Cincinnati.

    Democrat Barack Obama arrives in Washington on Monday. On the campaign trail, Obama has styled himself a centrist. But a look at those who’ve served as his advisers and mentors over the years shows a far more left-leaning tilt to his background — and to his politics.
    And as president, “we’ll ensure that economic justice is served,” he asserted. “That’s what this election is about.” Obama never spelled out the meaning of the term, but he didn’t have to. His audience knew what he meant, judging from its thumping approval.
    It’s the rest of the public that remains in the dark, which is why we’re launching this special educational series.
    “Economic justice” simply means punishing the successful and redistributing their wealth by government fiat. It’s a euphemism for socialism.
    In the past, such rhetoric was just that — rhetoric. But Obama’s positioning himself with alarming stealth to put that rhetoric into action on a scale not seen since the birth of the welfare state.
    In his latest memoir he shares that he’d like to “recast” the welfare net that FDR and LBJ cast while rolling back what he derisively calls the “winner-take-all” market economy that Ronald Reagan reignited (with record gains in living standards for all).

    remember this was the idea that said it was ok to starve the kulaks (and to designate at least one kulak per town, even if there werent any).

    its a recipe for stagnation that people will vote for and not understand what they are getting till after the crooked sale is made.

    its not like this hasnt happened many times before… but always to a less slick polity.

    too bad it had to happen in my lifetime, since it was too bad it happened to my grandparents and parents…

    this is how they can complain that a bail out costs 25 to 100 billion, and thats horrible, but an 840 bln tax to redistrubute wealth to the countries who are destroyed by it and waste it, and cant grow as long as they get it, is a social good.

    The seeds of his far-left ideology were planted in his formative years as a teenager in Hawaii — and they were far more radical than any biography or profile in the media has portrayed.


    (A video-streamed bio on Obama’s Web site includes a photo of him teaching in a University of Chicago classroom. If you freeze the frame and look closely at the blackboard Obama is writing on, you can make out the words “Power Analysis” and “Relationships Built on Self Interest” — terms right out of Alinsky’s rule book.)

    this is why every country that is moving to communist socialism, that he toured, greeted him as an anointed leader, not a runner.

    they want him to change america, the way that hitler cahnged germany, lenin and stalin changed russia, mao changed china, etc.

    we dont realize that under lincolns maxim, all you have to do is fool all of the people once.

    once the change happens, the declaration of independence doesnt exist. even if we recover, we will endlessly argue as to the failed construction of a new one that will be decidedly more feudal than free.

    there would be no way to reratify the old one back.

  22. Occam's Beard Says:

    Art, you’ll like this anecdote. A nearby church has a sign in front that says they have “a progressive theology and a commitment to social justice.”

    My young son asked what that meant. “It means they’re communists, but trying not to be too obvious about it.”

  23. Artfldgr Says:

    thats funny…

    glad your son has a dad!!!!!
    (and a mom too of course, but dads are in short order today)

    my stories are darker, so i will just leave an old joke..

    Three workers find themselves locked up, and they ask each other what they’re in for. The first man says: “I was always ten minutes late to work, so I was accused of sabotage.” The second man says: “I was always ten minutes early to work, so I was accused of espionage.” The third man says: “I always got to work on time, so I was accused of having a Western watch.”

    and a suggested read…

    Special Report: Red Faces Over Obama’s Red Mentor


    You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time. Lincoln

    Artfldgrs addition: But if your socialist/communist, you only have to fool them once.

  24. Artfldgr Says:

    oh, and another good read is..


    Why the Peaceful Majority is Irrelevant

    i wish people would wake up… this applies to fanatics of all stripes. there doestn need to be a majority of them, just enouhg of them in the right places.

    so many people remember the experiences of the last century but refuse to beleive its happening again. slower maybe, but happening still.

    i learned on my trip to indonesia, that they are more free there (and happier though poor), than we are here.

  25. stphnd Says:


  26. strcpy Says:

    “Anyone want to talk about the real issues at stake in this election? Or do we stick to hallucinations about how Obama thinks he’s god??”

    OK, tell me what Obama’s plans are for them.

    So far the only one we have a definite plan for besides just hoping things go well (after all Obama is in charge, and being the Hope of the World everything will work) is Iraq and his is an unmitigated disaster. He even acknowledges that things have changed but his plan remains the same.

    There have been a few other things he said something concrete about, say like hating FISA but then turning around and voting for it. We are just too stupid to understand how that isn’t being consistent – I guess he figured out using the word “nuanced” didn’t work before so now he just directly calls us stupid.

    Of course, this isn’t really a bad campaign strategy for him – after all it gives those that are in his hip pocket the ability to say things like “Anyone want to talk about the real issues at stake in this election?” and know that none of us can talk about what he believes. People can then fill in whatever it is they want him to do and hope that is what he also believes.

    It *is* a real issue that Obama has no plans past just his mere presence and hoping things go right. It *is* a real issue that Obama thinks he has become “a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions”. There is a reason the word “Demagogy” isn’t considered a good thing to do.

  27. Don Says:

    I’ve read that the first candidate who won based on Appearing or Acting Presidential was the first one whose campaign included radio, and that would be Harding. He was enormously popular, spoke beautifully, and had very progressive racial views. Turned out to be a great President as well. :P

  28. Roderick Reilly Says:

    Enough with all the grumpy, serious talk! I was just over at Vanderleun’s “American Digest” site where I was clued in about this posting suggesting Obama be made a King. My suggestion is that we make Obama The National Mascot, and that he be required to dress like “Thomas McEntee” at this link:

    As National Mascot, he can be our Goodwill Ambassador to the World. He can show up at all sorts of venues to give inspiring speeches and thereby make people think we Americans are truly a swell bunch.

    Hmmmm . . . . we may want to add both a giant bowtie and a Cub Scout beanie cap to the outfit, though. What do you think?

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