Friday, August 21, 2015

With Hollywood Help, Obama Begins Re-Writing History

by Jonathan S. TobinAccording to the New York Times article 'Obama Plots Life After Presidency', the planning for Barack Obama’s post-presidency started as soon as his second term began. The conversations began with director Steven Spielberg and studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg impressing upon the president the need to employ cutting edge technology in the presidential library to be built to honor him. 

Their goal, which has apparently been reinforced in many other late night conversations at the White House with a variety of other well-heeled and influential Obama fans, is that the aim of the new institution will be to develop, as the Times tells us, a “narrative” for his post-presidency. The reaction to that from most of the country, including the many who don’t think he’s been a good president (a group that has included a clear majority of Americans for most of his disastrous scandal-ridden second term), is so what? As long as the Obama library isn’t being built on our dime, what do we care what it contains or how it spins his historic yet flawed presidency?  

But with Hollywood honchos already thinking about how they will help brush up Obama’s “narrative,” the main point of the Obama library won’t be so much grandeur as it will be to exalt the legacy of the 44th president. While the tone of Bush’s opening remarks when his library opened was humility (a theme reflected in its exhibit if not in the concept of a half-billion dollar museum), one suspects there will not be much of it in the place built to honor a man who has shown precious little of that quality in his presidency.

Even more troubling is the prospect that Obama will link his pyramid to a new foundation that will be cut from the mold of the Clinton’s efforts. Their family foundation is a toxic mix of influence peddling and a thinly veiled political slush fund. There’s little doubt that Obama could match or even exceed their efforts. And that’s why we should worry about the post-Obama presidency and that of future presidents who will similarly use their positions to create new hybrid institutions that pose as philanthropies while actually performing a very different less exalted non-charitable purpose. As it is difficult to imagine him operating with the humility of either Bush, it’s likely Obama will become a permanent presence in which his library and foundation will be bases from which he will continue to influence our political life for the worst for many years to come.

There is something distinctly unhealthy for democracy in our new tradition of building bigger and bigger museums for each president as if they were pharaohs in ancient Egypt trying to construct bigger pyramids than those erected for their predecessors. Such institutions are a reflection of the inflation of each president into something earlier Americans would think of as a monarch rather than the elected leader of a republic. The harnessing of Hollywood and Silicon Valley high-tech to Obama’s ego in a billion-dollar pyramid ought to trouble us a bit even if it is only his admirers who will pay for it.

Plans to build Obama a mausoleum that will dwarf the ones built for his predecessors and to re-write history to burnish his reputation provide us with new proof of the moral vacuum at the heart of his administration.