Commentary Magazine


The Right to Be Like Obama

The New York Times is giving Barack Obama high marks for “push[ing] rights with Chinese students.” In Shanghai, Obama was asked via Internet, “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” Here was the audacious answer:

“Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter,” he said. “My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.”

OK, that wasn’t the audacious answer. That was the “self-effacing” appetizer that whets the appetite for the audacious answer:

“I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely, because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time,” he said. But, he added, “because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

Get it? Twitter should be used freely because Barack Obama manages to bravely endure the free flow of information in the U.S., and that makes him a better leader. Clumsy thumbs and all.

There is an Obama teaching-moment methodology. He has employed it to teach us mortals about America’s founding documents, to teach the International Olympic Committee why it should choose Chicago, and to teach Europeans why the fall of the Berlin Wall was so great: Look at what has worked so well to make me who I am. Follow that road and you shall be set free.

The sad truth is that Obama’s answer (without, of course, a simple “yes” in it) really is an administration high point for human rights. When Hillary Clinton visited China a few months back, she raised the topic only to announce her indifference to it. In other news, China detained dozens of dissidents in advance of Obama’s visit. That Beijing actually believed human-rights activists could move Barack Obama serves to demonstrate the extreme paranoia of the Communist party.