July
8th 2008
Poor Napoleon

Posted under: American history, art, European history

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!

22 Comments »

22 Responses to “Poor Napoleon”

  1. Adam on 08 Jul 2008 at 7:36 am #

    Most stories do note that JFK was the first presidential candidate to leave the convention center for a larger gathering space to give his acceptance speech, in Los Angeles in 1960. And Obama will be speaking, by coincidence, on the 45th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. So probably more about American political resonance than self-aggrandizement.

  2. Historiann on 08 Jul 2008 at 7:47 am #

    And, connecting Obama both to JFK and MLK is just a funny coincidence, and not at all about self-aggrandizement! (To be fair, of course, the convention was scheduled years ago, so it was not his doing that the acceptance speech would be on the anniversary of the King speech.)

  3. Michelle on 08 Jul 2008 at 7:57 am #

    In Napoleon’s defense, being crowned by the pope itself had centuries’ worth of symbolic freight behind it, and it’s easy to understand why he’d want to dodge that.

  4. GayProf on 08 Jul 2008 at 9:50 am #

    Hey, if I had a chance to wear ermine, I’d take it.

  5. Historiann on 08 Jul 2008 at 10:52 am #

    Well, GayProf–since you live in Midwestern Funkytown, you’ll probably have to make your own occasions for ermine! I find it difficult to squeeze in even the occasional mink stole in Potterville myself. (But, people are so dressed down in Colorado everywhere, all the time. Even in Denver–it’s jeans jeans jeans (or in summer, cutoff jeans), bronco tee-shirts, and baseball hats worn in restaurants. Even in nice restaurants! I sometimes wonder if a little public dress code would help Denver overcome its cow town reputation. (I’d prefer it, if people want to dress down, that they go back to cowboy hats, boots, and jeans–at least that’s a regionally distinctive look, and superior to the ball caps and sports gear that make even the natives look like tourists!)

    And, Michelle: yes, the tradition from Charlemagne on. But I don’t see Napoleon’s stunt as “dodging” the tradition, but rather subverting it to his own ends, and proclaiming himself superior to the Pope.

  6. Indyanna on 08 Jul 2008 at 11:26 am #

    I think he’s going for the John (Smiley) Elway demographic myself, but that invokes the image of the guy confidently driving the ball 80 yards three times in the last twelve minutes to send the Chargers back to San Diego dazed losers again, not the front-runner sitting on the safe lead, like this spring. Actually, I got the “JFK in the Colisseum” reference before I even got to that part of the story and wasn’t too put off by it. It compares favorably with Bill Clinton’s televised (and Caesar-like) ten-minute walk through the back corridors of whatever arena that was to sort-of hand the mantle off to Al Gore in 2000. Is there still time to book a room at the Brown Palace, by the way? Where’s the pic of the convalescent LBJ down on the Ranch, impulsively pulling up his shirt to show some appalled dignitary his barely-healed appendectomy scar?

  7. Historiann on 08 Jul 2008 at 11:34 am #

    Indyanna–the mortal enemies of the Broncos (the Civil Religion of Colorado) are the Satanic Oakland Raiders! If Obama could field a team to beat the Raiders, all 9 of our EC votes would be his for the taking!

  8. mary on 08 Jul 2008 at 4:44 pm #

    The New York Times quoted Obama today in Georgia saying:

    “One of the things you find as you go through this campaign, everyone becomes so cynical about politics,” Mr. Obama said. There is an “assumption that your must be doing everything for political reasons.”

    Voters should understand, he said, that they rarely will find themselves in 100 percent agreement with him. “But don’t assume that’s because I’m just doing it for “political reasons, he said.”

    It seems now, after having won the nomination, Obama can finally abandon the ambiguity of the primaries and remind voters that they will not always agree with him. Thanks Obama. Sounds a bit Napoleanic to me…

  9. Historiann on 08 Jul 2008 at 4:51 pm #

    Le parti, c’est moi!

    (Actually, “L’etat, c’est moi” was Louis XIV, but he spoke French too.)

    Well, he has a point about the not always agreeing with him part, but it’s nice to know that he takes positions that separate him from the left not just because of political expedience, but because he honestly agrees with Republicans and right-wing positions!

  10. steveeboy on 08 Jul 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    “I sometimes wonder if a little public dress code would help Denver overcome its cow town reputation. (I’d prefer it, if people want to dress down, that they go back to cowboy hats, boots, and jeans–at least that’s a regionally distinctive look, and superior to the ball caps and sports gear that make even the natives look like tourists!)”

    Right, and the problem with obama is that he is an arrogant elitist that doesn’t respect the working folks!

  11. Historiann on 08 Jul 2008 at 5:17 pm #

    Yeah, well, Steveeboy–I don’t need to win a single electoral college vote this fall now, do I?

    And, by the way: this is not a post about elites versus the working class. It’s a post about the dangers of living up to stereotypes!

  12. hysperia on 08 Jul 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    I watched CNN News tonight for a godforsaken ten minutes just so that I could hear all about Obama’s “sensitivity” to being accused of disappointing “the lefties”. Ah, I truly don’t mean to be rude but I question whether the US really has a “left”. But, apart from that, Carl Bernstein then smugly commented that “as for the left, they’ll NEVER be satisfied”, as if that is the fault of people on the left rather than of those who are constantly betraying them. He went on to say that Obama is “post-ideological”. Jehosaphat! From whence did he pull that and what the hell does it mean?!?

    I just have to say, poor LBJ. Yeah, he showed every sign of being a bully but he is also the man who, through acts of pragmatic political genius, finally managed to get civil rights legislation passed. I know it’s impossible to say, but personally, I seriously doubt that JFK, for all the talk of Camelot, would have gotten that job done. He really wanted to avoid that issue and he and RFK constantly admonished MLK to “be patient”. And shut up!

    Ah Barackstar. He really did seem hurt when I watched him complaining about the reaction of some of his constituents to the betrayals of the last weeks. Maybe he just wants us to LIKE him. REALLY like him!

  13. WHO is Barack? « mirabile dictu on 09 Jul 2008 at 1:50 am #

    [...] to get.  BARACK OBAMA’S NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES, guys.  He’s parading around like the next emperor apparent and he’s completely [...]

  14. Historiann on 09 Jul 2008 at 6:52 am #

    Hi hysperia–right on about the “Left” in the U.S.

    I’d take another LBJ in a heartbeat, quite frankly. He was a crude man, and a bully, but he got stuff done. We need someone with his mojo now, not equivocation or “post-ideological” leadership. Vietnam will probably continue to overshadow his courageous leadership on Civil Rights and the War on Poverty, however, which is tragic.

  15. Roxie on 09 Jul 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    The moms are jet-lagged and just catching up on the news, but is Bruce Springsteen actually performing at Emperor Barack’s coronation rally, or were you mapping out a fantasy? Please confirm, and thanks for helping us get back in the loop, Historiann!

  16. SF on 09 Jul 2008 at 3:53 pm #

    I also want to say that I had expected a really interesting campaign season. I thought Obama was going to be just as feisty with McCain as he was with HRC. Things have gotten so boring and anticlimactic. Of course, going back to an earlier discussion, the media plays a role in the dumbing down/boring up of the political discourse. I have the feeling that HRC would have made things more interesting and intense.

  17. Historiann on 09 Jul 2008 at 4:42 pm #

    Hi Roxie–welcome back! I’ve enjoyed your vacation snaps. No, Springsteen isn’t on board yet–but I’m pretty sure they’ll enlist someone big to ensure they can fill the stadium. I just used him and Stevie Wonder because Wonder has played pre-speech events for Obama before, and Springsteen was big in Kerry/Edwards ’04, as you recall.

    And SF: both McCain and Obama are lurching to the right, and to the status quo, so yeah, it’s pretty dull now. (But, this is just the calm before the post-Labor Day storm, of course.)

  18. Historiann on 09 Jul 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    p.s. Well, Hillary Clinton today voted the right way on FISA, and the other guy? Not so much.

    See Lambert’s post at Corrente, which he calls, “Just sayin’.”

  19. Indyanna on 09 Jul 2008 at 5:12 pm #

    I’d personally love it if he’d bring in the Jefferson Airplane to dust off and reprise *Gotta Revolution* (c. 1969). But I think we have to accept that it’s the calm before the Nobody-Knows-What. The netroots are circling Joe Lieberman again, but Reid et. al. won’t give up his head on a stake until they see what’s up for the next Congress, which suggests that they don’t necessarily see a Senatorial landslide in their immediate future. There could be a major terrorist attack. The markets might tank on a 1929 scale. I think Obama is doing what HRC would also have done: recognizing that s/he’s asking the country literally to do what it’s never done before, and, as obviously virtuous as that is, playing things pretty carefully. Academics and the commentariate have the luxury of wargaming it however they like, but it is pretty much unmapped territory out there. I’d be surprised if the candidates and parties didn’t move very carefully over that territory. Clinton would have been a bit more of a risktaker I think, because she’s more experienced and has more of an intellectual than an intuitive approach to political strategy, but not by that very much I’d guess.

  20. Write on 21 Jul 2008 at 4:49 pm #

    The major news media write these days again and again that Barack Hussein should win over female vote of Hillary’s supporters, see ABC for example. Hmm, I am not a female (sure!) wont vote for Obama-baby or McCain (again sure!) so ABC and the likes have counted me out. BUT NEVER COUNT OUT A CLINTON! You will see she will become a President next January. That’s the point. In the meantime Barack can continue to inhale until the year 2016 and John to distance himself away from Bush until he founds himself in his Arizonian house.

    Yes, I will write-in Hillary no matter what the ballot will look like on the Election day. Go on, Hillary!

  21. Who ever could have predicted? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 10 Oct 2009 at 9:12 am #

    [...] I did.  Will the Nobel be Obama’s “Commander Codpiece” [...]

  22. dustbury.com » Black and white and apparently still read on 27 Oct 2009 at 10:08 am #

    [...] The news for newspapers, generally, ranges from bad to worse, and circulation figures have been tanking as badly as Michael Dukakis. [...]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply