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Contentions

The Joke

So Barack Obama was seized with a moment of private amusement when thinking about the question of which former presidents he had talked to following the election — the idea that he might have had a moment of communion with presidents not living. In that split second, he got confused the story of Hillary Clinton saying she had imaginary conversations with the story of Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer on her husband’s schedule, Mary Todd Lincoln having seances in the White House, and perhaps even with the story of Richard Nixon talking to the presidential paintings in the days before his resignation in 1974. Following that split second, with the sort of smile one gets on one’s face when a funny thought crosses one’s mind, he said, “I have spoken to all of them who are living. I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any séances.”

Jen thinks this was graceless. Maybe. But he surely didn’t mean anything by it. And I’m sorry he’s getting hammered for it, because it made him seem like a more interesting person. Now, Obama is nothing if not an interesting person. His book Dreams from My Father is a very, very interesting self-portrait — my friend Andy Ferguson has gone so far as to call it a “small masterpiece,” which is higher praise than I would give it (and, moreover, from a source who is far less inclined to lavish praise than I am). But it is the nature of politics that it forces interesting people to turn into less interesting people, because displays of personality can always be taken the wrong way. Obama just learned a lesson about that, and it may force him to continue to keep his guard raised lest too many signs of his ironist’s temperament emerge to give the 24-7 news maw something to chew over.

It used to be that Caesar’s wife had to be the person in the Empire with unimpeachable character, to give Caesar a little leeway. Now Caesar has to be purer than his wife.



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