August 23, 2009

Have a good vacation, Mr. President

I must confess I am a little embarrassed raising doubts and/or writing critically about U.S. President Barack Obama, and this for two reasons : first because, to be honest, this has been a rough summer for him and I do not want to be sadistic or something, and second, far less nobly, because these days, as much in Europe as in the U.S., it seems to have become unfashionable and “uninspired,” if not downright silly, to criticize the President.

To be precise, I’m thinking about what happened only a few days ago when British historian Niall Ferguson—he is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School—dared to compare President Obama with Felix the Cat. When I first read the article I thought it was a very good one : good-naturedly ironic, but an cute and penetrating analysis of the first six months of Obama’s presidency. Well, he has been plainly accused to have played “the racist card.” As Ferguson himself puts it, “the seemingly dead body of political correctness just twitched.” I myself was frankly astonished and couldn’t believe my eyes when I took note of that and other similar reactions to Ferguson’s article.

In other words, I would really hate to be accused of being a racist. But, at the same time, knowing by long experience what I am and what I am not, I feel like taking the risk. Hence this post. What I would say first, for instance, is that the future is dark (black actually) for liberty in America—without worrying, if possible, about any potential misunderstanding over whether or not the words “dark” and “black” can be interpreted in an ambiguous way—if you can no longer afford to be ironic about the President, whoever he may be. I found it rather paradoxical that Niall Ferguson might have felt compelled to justify his article by explaining that

1. Black cats are proverbially lucky.
2. Felix the cartoon character was a black cat, not an African-American cat - in other words, he was not one of the (quite numerous) 1920s figures in popular entertainment that mocked the mannerisms of the descendants of slaves.
3. Obama is a lucky president -- so far. Compare his first six months with Carter's and Clinton's if you don't get that bit.
4. As for the word "black", it's the same one used by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Harvard Black Alumni Society, among others.

I just hope Bill O’Reilly, who has written this amusing piece [thanks: Sandra Kennedy], will be more lucky than Professor Ferguson. But the Fox News anchorman carefully (and shrewdly) avoided any reference to black cats, or dogs, or other dark colored animals. He just limited himself to point out that, since “it has been a rough summer for Obama,” he “obviously needs to relax.”

After all,

[t]he economy continues to wobble, the Afghan war is brutal, and the health care chaos has diminished the president in the eyes of many Americans. His leadership on that vital issue has been inconsistent and, at times, downright confusing. I dare you to sit through an entire Obama town hall health care meeting and then explain what the president said. Talk about a tower of babble.

And that’s why he believes

it is important that no one yell at Obama during his vacation. He has certainly had enough of that recently. He needs some peace, some downtime. He needs to recharge using the Vineyard’s sun and wind. The president must get away from talk radio, tea bag protestors, and cap and trade.
Like Grant before him, Obama should just settle back with a cold one, turn on Fox News and enjoy the moments.

I think Bill is absolutely right, and what’s more, he is politically correct.


  1. Absolutely correct. This president is losing the argument of turning the US into a socialist State. He may have lost it. When people begin losing an argument, they begin ad hominem attacks. This was supposed to be a post racial administration, and not only have those that oppose or criticize him been called racist, (and he has not chastised), but have been called Nazis, fascists, stupid, liars, and the list goes on. I find it amusing too that his vacation is among the super rich who's wealth he's trying to confiscate, and the press just loves that he's taking a vacation there. When GW took a vacation, he went to his ranch and did hard physical labor, and the press mocked him and praised left wing extremist protesters at the edge of his property. Wonder how many protesters will be on the edge of the multi-million dollar estate where he's vacationing?

  2. Hey Steven, how do you say a "radical-chic" in American English? ;-)

  3. Rob, two observations:

    1. A wise man said that when you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging. Maybe Obama's time on vacation will be helpful because he'll stop digging his hole deeper.

    2. Obama going on vacation is probably good for the country.

  4. Tom Carter:
    As it is when the capitol recesses...

  5. Rob, it's an observation I've made. It's amazing that even insightful criticism is being dismissed outright as being racist.

    Awful. Maddening really.

    I ain't letting up though. I feel if Bush was fair game then so should he.