Tag: Cult of the Presidency

Download Cult of the Presidency for Free!

Download my book for free!

Last week, the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait praised Cult of the Presidency, and the Economist quoted the book.  Which reminds me, I provided a link in my last post, but forgot to stress the fact that we’re now literally giving it away with free online downloads (especially nice for those of you who are Kindle owners).

With presidential “daddyism” rampant, and our National Father-Protector’s manifest failure to protect us from oil spills and tornadoes, there couldn’t be a better time to check out the comprehensive libertarian indictment (if I do say so myself) of the presidency, the very model of a modern constitutional monstrosity.

Download it here.

Cult Watch

Download my book for free!

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.

You Feel Me?

The MoDo column I criticize below exemplifies the warped notion that we should view the president as a benevolent national Father-Protector.  But it’s also a good example of a related phenomenon, the apparently unquenchable yearning for Presidential Empathy.

“Once more,” she writes, “President Spock”  has “willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.”  There’s a little tension between Dowd’s desire for a presidential father figure and her demand for a “Feeler in Chief.”  She seems to want a daddy who cries a lot.

But this understanding of the president’s role is hardly unique to her:

Introducing his 1996 presidential ranking survey, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. declared that a great president needed to “have a deep connection with the needs, anxieties, dreams of the people.” Of course, the ability to channel the collective soul of the American volk isn’t a skill that the chief magistrate needs in order to faithfully execute the laws or defend the country from foreign attacks.

Maybe so, but most public intellectuals have a much broader view of the president’s job.  Which may explain why disdain for Obama’s “No Drama” affect is so common among the chattering classes.

This president is too cool, too reserved, too professorial, they charge.  He has “a stony, cool temperament,” (Peggy Noonan);  His “above-the-fray mien… does not communicate empathy” (Richard Cohen), and he shrinks from “lead[ing] the nation emotionally” (Jon Meacham). “I wasn’t feeling it,” MoDo’s Times colleague Charles Blow grumbled after Obama insisted he was “angry” about the spill.  (Really, press secretary Joe Gibbs insisted yesterday, “I’ve seen rage from him.” He “clenched” his jaw.)

I have more than my share of complaints about this president.  But this is one that leaves me, er, cold.  It seems to me that it’s to Obama’s credit that he’s not a blubbery empath like Bill Clinton.  It’s good that he’s reluctant to play the role of podium-pounding blustery populist.  Thank God for small favors.

Over the last century, the Framers’ limited, businesslike presidency has been transformed into an extraconstitutional monstrosity that promises everything and guarantees nothing, save public frustration and the steady growth of state power.  When American “opinion leaders” join together to lament the fact that the president’s not an effective enough demagogue, it’s not hard to understand how we got here.

Cultwatch: Union Station, New York Times

obamastoreSnapped this pic at DC’s Union Station this afternoon, on my way from the Amtrak platform to the Metro (where the machine dispensed a metrocard featuring a grinning BHO). Readers planning to visit DC will be happy to know that you can get all your Obama-related tchotchkes and talismans in one convenient locale right after you get off the train.

Say what you will about hapless Jerry Ford, but he had this going for him: nobody ever thought of making an action figure in his image.

In other cult-related news, today’s New York Times has an “Op-Extra” sidebar,with “excerpts from Opinion Online.” Our friend Judith Warner, last seen discussing cougar fantasies about “sex with the president,” weighs in about the shirtless Obama cover on the current Washingtonian:

“Just as having a president who can string a sentence together with subject-verb agreement makes us all look a little bit smarter, just as having a really admirable family in the White House makes us all seem a little less dysfunctional, perhaps having a president who can look good in a bathing suit is in some bizarre way good for the nation.”

Yeah, I mean, God knows it’s been good for Russia.

Cato Scholars Address Obama’s First Speech to Congress

President Barack Obama’s first address to Congress laid out a laundry list of new spending contained within the stimulus legislation and provided hints as to what will be contained in the budget - a so-called “blueprint for America’s future” - he’ll submit to the legislature. Cato Institute scholars Chris Edwards, Jim Harper, Gene Healy, Neal McCluskey, David Rittgers, John Samples and Michael D. Tanner offer their analyses of the President’s non-State-of-the-Union Address.

Subscribe to Cato’s video podcast here and Cato’s YouTube channel here.

Dear Leader

Two recent items in the “Cultwatch” category:

NPR has audio of an Atlanta student chorus that will be singing at the inaugural festivities. “Dear Obama hear us sing/we’re ready for the change that you will bring…” (hat tip: David Boaz)

And here’s video of some 800 Chicago elementary school students whose teachers had them form a 150-foot human portrait of the president-elect’s face:

(hat tip: Matt Welch)