Driving home the other night, I caught the end of the NPR program “On Point.” This edition, running the ideological gamut all the way from left to center-left, featured Bob Kuttner and Jonathan Alter, “on the Obama presidency and the oil spill challenge.” At about 45:20 in, Alter took the week’s prize for utterly creepy views of the presidency (no small feat):
One thing I want to make clear where Bob and I strongly really agree is that – when FDR died the funeral procession moved up Pennsylvania avenue and a man, a grieving man, fell to his knees, and another man helped him to his feet and said, “Did you know the President?”
And the grieving man said, “No, but he knew me.”
And Barack Obama is not yet at a point where the American people really feel like he knows them and their problems and that’s where he needs to get to.
Yes, if only our president could emit from his concern-furrowed brow rays of inspiration so powerful, they’d make Americans swoon in the street like holy rollers at an Appalachian snake-handling session – then and only then will we know our democracy is truly healthy.
“Man is a toad-eating animal,” the early 19th-century English essayist and political radical William Hazlitt wrote in 1819: “naturally a worshiper of idols and a lover of kings.” That’s a pretty pessimistic take on humanity as a whole, but it certainly holds true for a good many public intellectuals.