Commentary Magazine


Obama, a “Sort of God”?

On Friday evening Newsweek editor Evan Thomas had an extraordinary exchange with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Thomas, commenting on Obama’s Cairo speech, said, “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” And when Thomas was asked by Matthews, “Reagan and World War II and the sense of us as the good guys in the world, how are we doing?” Thomas replied:

Well, we were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way. It hasn’t felt that way in recent years. So Obama’s had, really, a different task. We’re seen too often as the bad guys. And he — he has a very different job from — Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is “we are above that now.” We’re not just parochial, we’re not just chauvinistic, we’re not just provincial.

These comments reveal several notable things.

The first is that it is now impossible to mock the media’s adoration for Obama. In the past, if conservatives had said that MSM commentators viewed Obama as God, people would have assumed they were exaggerating in order to make a point. But in this instance, there is no exaggeration; Thomas stated that Obama is “sort of God.” It appears as if in their unguarded moments, Thomas and those like him really do view Obama as the Anointed One, a political Messiah, not only a gift from heaven but the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Keep in mind that Thomas is viewed as a serious journalist for what was once seen as a serious mainstream publication: Newsweek. Now Newsweek long ago set aside any pretense of objectivity when it came to Obama; every week it takes up palm branches for him. Still, it is a bit jarring to see the bias so obvious, so up front, so proudly out in the open. In that respect, Thomas’s comments are useful; they reveal a cast of mind that no one can now deny.

No political figure in modern American history has been so adored by the press. JFK came closest — but even he was not deified, even in death. The depth and intensity of the passion for Obama among the press is something young children need to be shielded from.

A second thing to note in Thomas’s comments is his assertion that “we [the United States] were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way.” Well, it might have felt that way to many conservatives. But to many liberals, it was actually something very nearly the opposite. It’s worth reminding those on the Left with selective memories that Reagan was mocked and ridiculed as a dangerous figure, trigger-happy, a war-monger, reckless and provocative. His support for the Nicaraguan contras, his build-up of America’s defense, the installation of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe to counteract the Soviet deployment of SS-20s, and Reagan’s talk about the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” unnerved and infuriated liberals.

“I wonder how many people, reading about the [“evil empire”] speech or seeing bits on television, really noticed its outrageous character,” Anthony Lewis wrote in the New York Times in March 1983. “Primitive: that is the only word for it. … What is the world to think when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology — one in fact rejected by most theologians?… What must the leaders of Western Europe think of such a speech? They look to the head of the alliance for rhetoric that can persuade them and their constituents. What they get from Ronald Reagan is a mirror image of crude Soviet rhetoric. And it is more than rhetoric: everyone must sense that. The real Ronald Reagan was speaking in Orlando. The exaggeration and the simplicities are there not only in the rhetoric but in the process by which he makes decisions.”

Commentators like Lewis and magazines like Newsweek had contempt for Reagan’s approach; it is only now, after history has vindicated him, that we’re supposed to believe we all supported Reagan and that Americans were seen as “the good guys.”

A third important thing to take away from Thomas’s comments is why Obama is so beloved by some reporters and commentators. Reagan, Thomas says, was “all about America.” But Obama is “above that now.” He is “standing above the country” he was elected to represent. And in doing so, we’re not just “parochial, we’re not just chauvinistic, we’re not just provincial.”

That is an extremely and probably unintentionally revealing set of comments by Mr. Thomas. For the president to speak on behalf of his nation as Reagan spoke up for America is viewed as unsophisticated, narrow-minded, and bigoted. Obama, in the eyes of his supporters, has transcended such things. According to the logic of Thomas, Obama deserves to be praised precisely because he does not, in the first instance, represent America. At his best, Obama is a “citizen of the world,” standing “above the country.”

Some of us have a different, quainter notion of such things. We believe America is, in the words of Lincoln, an “inestimable jewel” — an imperfect and extraordinary nation that deserves our affection and deepest attachment. We believe, as Lincoln and the founders did, that the fate of this republic is inextricably tied to the principles upon which it was founded. We actually do not want our President to “stand above the country.” And we do not believe it is particularly sophisticated to disparage as chauvinistic and provincial those who speak up for her. Nor, I might add, do we view Obama as “sort of God,” or anything close to God. The fact that Evan Thomas and those who view the world as he does, do see Obama in supernatural terms tells you everything you need to know, and probably nothing you didn’t know.

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