UPDATED BELOW–IT’S A MUST-READ!
I’m as much into the corny pageantry of politics as anyone–I marched with the Weld County Dems last week in the Stampede Parade, after all, dodging horse poop with Congressman Mark Udall, and I’ll probably park myself in front of the TV to watch the next president’s inauguration, as I have ever since Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985. But, does anyone else think it may be a little risky for Barack Obama to ditch the many millions of dollars for rent and renovation of the Pepsi Center in Denver in favor of renting out the even bigger venue of Invesco Field (formerly Mile High Stadium) for his acceptance speech? (This is the convention that’s already having fundraising problems, after all!) If he wins the election, this move may look providential, or even presidential–but if he doesn’t win, what will this stunt look like?
Has Obama learned nothing from Commander Codpiece’s ridiculous “Mission Accomplished” speech on May 1, 2003, when he announced that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended?” The photo at left is the image that embodies the arrogant faux-masculinity, incompetence, and all-around a$$hattery of George W. Bush. (The photo of him surveying the damage of Hurricaine Katrina from 37,000 feet is a close second, and I must admit, there are plenty to choose from, h/t Susie at Suburban Guerrila.) This picture confirms what so many of us knew all along about Bush: that he was a boy playing at dress-up, not a man capable of being President. Will the Obama campaign announce next week that they’ve invited the pope to crown him Emperor, so that Obama can grab the crown and perform the second autocoronation in world history? Napoleon was a successful emperor, at least until he wasn’t, and this painting by David below (The Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I Bonaparte) still makes him look like a presumptuous jerk, more than 200 years later:
The images of U.S. Presidents and presidential candidates that become iconic are those that capture a widely recognized idea or set of ideas about the person in question. (Please note that I didn’t say these photos capture a truth about these men and women, although they may do that, too. In some cases below, the photos capture a moment that’s used to caricature the men in question, and have little if anything to do with the truth of their character or their performance as president.) Thus, the iconic image of Lyndon Johnson holding his beagle Him by the ears–everyone knew Johnson was a crude man and a bully, and this photo summed it all up:
When Michael Dukakis stepped out of that tank 20 years ago, the iconic photograph of him (at right) sealed his fate. He looked too goofy to be a “Commander in Chief,” although the photo opportunity was originally intended to beef up his military credentials. So much for good intentions!
Bob Dole’s fall off of a speaking platform during his 1996 presidential campaign cemented his image (unfairly) as a bumbling older man who may not have the stamina for the presidency. In this case, it’s an iconic video of the pratfall, rather than a still photo. Similarly, the iconic image of Bill Clinton as president was probably a video of him shaking his finger and proclaiming, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Everyone knew he was a tough dog to keep on the porch–and most suspected that he was untruthful. (Lying about sex? Who does that?)
The iconic image of the John F. Kennedy presidency was perhaps not one of the president himself, but rather the photo of his family with his little son John Jr. giving him a final salute as his casket passes by. The image at left captures the feeling of lost opportunities and lost innocence, for both the young family and the nation.
I suppose that if Obama avoids pseudomilitary clothing, animal cruelty, and leaves his sceptre and main de justice at home, the Mile High acceptance speech will probably work out just fine for him. But, it seems to me that in a time of war, global environmental crisis, and economic peril for most Americans, a little modesty and humility would go a long way, especially after the breadless circuses we’ve been treated to for the past seven and a half years. Being photographed speaking to a stadium filled with 76,000 people, after a warm-up by Bruce Springsteen or Stevie Wonder–well, that seems to confirm a lot of suspicions about Obama that even many Democrats have–that it’s all about him, Barackstar Obama, and that it’s not about the greater good of the Democratic Party or the country.
A friend of mine who has volunteered for Obama and has regularly donated to his campaign sent me some initial thoughts about the Mile High speech, after receiving an e-mail from the campaign offering her a chance to win tickets to the speech if she donates still more money:
I feel like the Obama folks are convinced that his supporters require nothing but being able to bask in his presence. We’re not concerned with silly things like his policy decisions, or a sense of his stance on key issues, like abortion or gun control. Give us the possibility of 15 seconds in the man’s presence, and we’re satisfied. Its demeaning and irritating.
Whose party is it, anyway? I mean both the one in Denver next month, and the one that calls itself “Democratic.” (But, I will give Obama bonus points if his first words at Mile High are, “Hello Cleveland!”)
UPDATE, Tuesday afternoon: Chris Bowers at Open Left reports (via Iowa Indepdendent) that “the the Obama campaign is not integrating downticket campaigns into a ‘coordinated campaign’ structure. Instead, local Democratic staff are being fired and replaced with Obama staff.” Chris continues, “As such, what is really disturbing about these charges is that the promise Obama’s campaign and movement held out for a fifty-state strategy that supported downticket candidates everywhere could be a mirage. If local staff are being fired, coordinated campaigns are being abandoned, and everything is replaced with Obama-focused infrastructure, then this isn’t really party building, it isn’t really a fifty-state strategy, and it isn’t really a movement. It is, instead, an entirely top-down organization serving a single purpose: electing Barack Obama.” Now you’re catching on, Chris!
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