At one point I thought it could be attributed to an unusual degree of cynicism, but now I wonder if it goes deeper than that. What I have in mind is President Obama’s obsession with portraying himself as our moral superior. Virtually every time he speaks these days, we are treated to another journey through what William Makepeace Thackeray aptly dubbed Vanity Fair.
For example, if you listened to the president’s news conference today, a theme we are by now wearily familiar with was repeated with numbing repetition: Obama, according to Obama, is quite simply better, much better, than those around him. He is a man of pure motives and unparalleled reasonableness, extraordinary intellectual depth, and unsurpassed seriousness. Others are driven by narrow self-interest, by the political calendar, by outside pressures. They are too ignorant or too weak to do the right thing, the good thing, the hard thing.
Members of Congress, from both parties, are trapped by their own ideological predispositions. Obama, according to Obama, is not. He is free from bias, able to see reality whereas others merely see shadows. It is not easy to be Obama in a fallen world.
Politics tends to draw into its orbit people who are inordinately impressed with themselves and caught up in excessive self-love. But in Barack Obama we have stumbled across someone unlike anyone we have seen before. This is a man, after all, who believed he had it within his powers to heal the planet and reverse the ocean tides. And as the hopes and dreams of his 2008 campaign continue to crash down around him — as his popularity wanes, as some of his most worshipful followers turn from him, as he is unable to extract himself from the results of his failed policies — his narcissism seems to grow, not diminish. It is hard to tell where this will all end. But I suspect it won’t be pretty. Watching what happens to those who fall in love with their own reflection rarely is.