The 'New' Obama . . .
Jonathan Schell's article "Barack Obama has been brutalized by the presidency" (The Star, October 24, 2012) is the most insightful analysis of Obama's character that I've read in a long time. In response to some who claimed that the 'old' Obama was back after he had recovered the energy lacking in his lethargic first performance debating Romney, Schell demurs:
The Obama on display in the second debate -- and the third -- was harder, chillier, sadder, and more sombre. There was tension in the lines of his mouth. His speech was clipped, as if under continuous rigorous control. His rhetoric did not soar, could not soar. The smile was rare and constrained.The Obama schooled in reconciliation -- schooled in that through his own search for identity as one born and raised between races and between cultures -- has "gone forever," re-schooled and re-skilled in . . .
But his command of detail and argument was rock solid. His sentences parsed. He spoke with a cold, disciplined energy. In repose (as witnessed on the split screen in the reaction shots) he was often perfectly immobile, almost stony, as if posing for a portrait.
One word for all of this would be "presidential," in the sense of competent, seasoned, and sobered by reality. But that word also connotes the fearsome qualities of ruthlessness and brutality that any honest portrayal of the office of president of the United States must include in our day. Obama has inhabited the White House for four years; now the White House inhabits him.
. . . violence and suppression of rights: drone strikes that have killed children as well as terrorists, the futile "surge" in Afghanistan, the continued operation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, reliance on military tribunals, an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers, and the assertion of a right to order the assassination of foreigners and Americans alike at his sole discretion.Schell doesn't voice this word, but it's a postmodern tragedy: Obama, the man who would reconcile, confronted by "the long war" with an implacable foe and constrained to make pragmatic decisions that go against the grain of an identity he himself constructed, decisions that have shaved away so much of that old identity that only the hardest core remains.
No wonder he hates being the President. Who would ever want to be king?
Labels: Barack Obama