President Barack Obama has the retirement act down to poetic perfection now. He has relished several farewell occasions now in these months since the presidential election essentially guaranteed that his presidential legacy – whatever you think it might be – would not be cherished and nurtured by a Clinton presidency but deep-sixed by a Trump administration.
And so he has found every opportunity to wax eloquent about his years of service – in front of faithful military personnel who somehow can’t believe this most un-military of presidents when he tells that how proud he has been to be commander-in-chief; in final news conferences, where his nodding acolytes in the media can throw him that one last softball question about what a day in the life of the presidency is like; or on banal talk shows where the worshipful hosts quiver with the emotional realization that the Great Progressive will soon be leaving the White House and the great unwashed who voted for Trump are now at the gates.
But Tuesday night was something again. Here was Obama perfectly in tune with his obsequious audience; feeling the love that he has for himself reflected back from his fans. This was Obama at his narcissistic best, posturing as a transformational man of history, pretending that he had really accomplished anything worthy of braggadocio after eight years of a desultory journey. Suggesting that he had brought America together, restored prosperity and renewed hope in the bosom of every true believer– when he couldn’t even raise the standard of living of the black Americans who deposited so much hope in his gospel of change.
Obama is probably the only successful presidential candidate who cared so little for ideas that he ran, not one, but two campaigns with single-word slogans. In 2008 it was “Change.” Four years later it was “Forward.” Wow: can you imagine anyone falling captive to that kind of nonsense? Oh yeah, it worked.
But the great irony of Obama’s incessant delivery of retirement speeches is that he isn’t even serious. Frank Sinatra famously retired in 1972 at a farewell concert, seemingly vanishing from the stage at the end of his signature concert finale, “Angel Eyes.” But Ol’ Blue Eyes was serious – at least for a few months. Obama might be relinquishing the presidential office to Donald Trump in just over a week, but he has no intention of surrendering what he believes is his moral right to represent his America.
So he will stay in Washington, D.C. during his absence from the presidency, no doubt offering his nuggets of wisdom and governance advice to anyone in the next administration who cares to listen, fully believing that he is really representing the aspirations of the American people. Of course presidential protocol means precious little to great men of history like Obama who know they still have legacy points to score but aren’t sure exactly how to do it. That’s why Obama, as a sitting president, campaigned so vigorously and so inappropriately at the public’s expense for Hillary Clinton. Not only did he find nothing objectionable in behaving in such a crass and partisan manner, he seriously believed that his very presence would nullify Hillary’s negatives and magically subsume the public’s reluctance to embrace her political baggage. When she lost, Obama was careful to emphasize that he had evaded political defeat through his hard work and attention to detail – suggesting that the indolent Clintons just didn’t have what he had after all.
It will be a terrible temptation, but we can only hope that Obama can resist the urge to upstage Trump at the inauguration next week. He will be close by and the attraction of the spotlight will be intense.
But perhaps he can find that ounce of humility that has always seemed absent from his political life.
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