What past President does Obama most closely resemble?

We can only guess at what the Obama Administation will do, and what mark they will make on America.   One method of guessing:  playing the “what past president does Obama most closely resemble” game.  This essay provides some haunting similarities between Obama and one of our more interesting presidents, one whose election reveals much about how modern America differs from our past.When reading this, think of Obama’s speches about our wars, race relations, the financial crisis, and energy policy.“Deadly Virtue”, Lewis Lapham, from Fortune’s Child – A portrait of America as a spendthrift heir, originally published in September 1978 — Excerpt:

Mr. Carter was elected to redeem the country, not to govern it. The press, as well as a majority of the electorate, chose to believe that Mr. Carter’s spiritualization of the issues conferred the highest possible benefit upon the Republic.

… {During the campaign} he revolved like a mechanical toy in the bright ball of the media, answering everyman’s question and smiling into everyman’s camera; and yet, then as now, hardly anybody knew anything about him. He had taken positions on both sides of every question that could be identified as an issue, and in June, as in early February, the public-opinion polls showed that liberals believed Mr. Carter to be a liberal and that conservatives believed him to be a conservative. Not even his admirers seemed to know who he was, or what he stood for, or why he wanted to be President of the United States.

… Mr Carter chose to present himself in the persona of the innocent abroad … wandering around the country in search of love and friends. … Like a small boy reciting an inspirational poem he said all the dutiful things that a well-behaved child is supposed to say in the company of strangers.

… The effect of his speech was embarrassing. To an audience of considerable sophistication Mr. Carter had delivered a 4-H Club address, all of it stale and very sweet, utterly devoid of feeling or thought. {Afterwards} there were as many opinions as there were small groups of people coming together to exchange theories and interpretations Mr. Carter has come and gone in a magician’s smoke, leaving his admirers with an empty canvas on which they could paint the images of their heart’s desire.

… In place of a vision of the future he offered an image of the nonexistent past, promising a safe return to an innocent Eden in which American power and morality might be restored to the condition of imaginary grace. … He spoke to the unhappiness of people wishing for a world that never was. The popular suspicion of government is always well-founded. To a greater or lesser extent, all governments commit crimes against the common people. The law is usually unjust, the Capitol always noisy with fools. No wonder that Mr. Carter found so many adherents for his crusade against the lords temporal and the kingdom of Caesar.

His success with the so-called governing class, with people who thought they recognized him as a demagogue, raises a more ominous question. Outside the walls of the citadel the suspicion of government can be taken for granted. Among people inside the walls prevalence of an analogous feeling, expressed as self-disgust rather than as resentment, suggests the possibility of a civilization in decline. A surprising number of people who hold responsible office, in government as well as in the realms of law, finance, and the press, have acquired the habit of denouncing themselves as impostors. They distrust their own legitimacy.

… When they try to envision the future they see nothing that doesn’t look like a Saturday afternoon rerun of the past 20 years. The same slogans, the usual compromises, and the old lies — all of it miserably expensive and none of it made bearable by the romance of youth or the presence of the Kennedy’s. Their lack of imagination makes them sick of themselves.

… Mr. Carter’s idea of self-sufficiency corresponds to the popular belief that the country, like a successful individual who believes the lessons of Michael Korda’s Power” How to Get It, How to Use It, must not be dependent on anybody for anything.

Of all the nonsense associated with the Carter Administration, this strikes me as both the most foolish and the most dangerous. Only madmen believe themselves existing in a vacuum. All living things depend on one another. This si the lesson taught by the environmentalists as well as by the practitioners of Realpolitik, by marriage counselors as well as by poets. how else can life be defined except as the vast play of interdependence among nations, molecules, sexes, species, cells — everything combining and recombining in the theater of light, space, and time.



Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about the Obama Administration, see the FM reference page (on the right side menu bar) about Obama, his administration and Ameican policies today.  It has these 4 sections:

  1. About President Obama
  2. About Team Obama
  3. About change
  4. About the policies of the Obama Administration

Posts about President Obama (section one):

  1. Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?, 6 June 2008 — Weirdness from our next President.
  2. Does America need a charismatic President?, 15 July 2008
  3. More about charisma, by Don Vandergriff…(#2 in the “getting ready for Obama” series), 16 July 2008 — About charisma:  know it before you buy it!
  4. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008 — At what point does criticism of Obama’s charisma and rhetoric become criticism of leadership itself — and blind faith in technocratic solutions so loved by policy nerds?
  5. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008 — Obama’s statement about America may be the simple truth; this may be why so many find it disturbing.
  6. America gets ready for new leadership (or is it back to the future?), 14 November 2008
  7. About Obama’s coronation – wisdom from Fred, 23 January 2009
Originally published at Fabius Maximus and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

2 Responses to "What past President does Obama most closely resemble?"

  1. John Slater   June 1, 2009 at 10:28 am

    This could be a comforting view of Obama, but I don’t think it is accurate. He has been quite diligent in pushing the key elements of his platform and his eye appears to be very much on the ball. Yes he has made some abhorrent compromises with the Democrat controlled Congress, which from the first was the prime enemy of his vision, but that may be tactical.I see more parallels to Octavian than to Jimmy Carter. Octavian didn’t win all his battles early on, but he steadily increased his lock on power and, in the end convinced most Romans (his dead former enemies excepted) that what he had done was for their own good. They were quite willing to accept the fiction that he had restored the Republic as what they really wanted was the restoration of stability and prosperity. Of course things didn’t go as well with some of his successors, but that is another story.

  2. Guest   June 6, 2009 at 2:30 pm