The Return of the Imperial Presidency
As Christmas nears and millions of Americans across the country prepare to celebrate the birth of a child in a lowly manger, Barack Obama is gearing up for a celebration of his own—his imperial Inauguration. And, like all of his celebrations, his inaugural plans are rife with forced symbolism and unprecedented grandeur.
With regards to his journey to Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration, it seems the President-elect has taken note of the brouhaha the Big Three endured by deciding to forgo a jet trip on Obama Air. Rather, the junior Senator turned President will ride by train.
Before you chuckle at Mr. Obama's meager travel sel ection, understand that there is always an underlying methodology in his mania for the meretricious. As expected, this is no ordinary train trip.
The President-elect's train journey—which will take him from Philadelphia to Washington with stops in Wilmington and Baltimore in between—is meant to mirror a similar train journey made by Abraham Lincoln to his Inaugural in 1861. In a shameless effort to paint the incoming president not only as the next Lincoln, but also as the living embodiment of his legacy, Obama's inaugural planners are pulling out all the stops. As the following USA Today excerpt reiterates:
“Philadelphia is a logical starting point, said presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, especially for the nation's first African-American president. The framers of the Constitution — all white males — ‘set in motion something that is still a work in progress,' he said.”
And, as Emmett S. Beliveau, executive director of the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee, said regarding the overtly symbolic, multi-city trip:
"As part of the most open and accessible Inauguration in history, we hope to include as many Americans as possible who wish to participate, but can't be in Washington…These events will allow us to do that while honoring the rich history and tradition of previous inaugural journeys."
It seems Barack Obama has quite an affinity for honoring rich history—especially, of course, if it honors him in the process. For instance, Mr. Obama honored the “rich history” of the Roman emperors by addressing the masses beneath the pearly white Greek temple at the coliseum known as INVESCO field. And although his followers may have trouble recalling the specifics of that particular speech, one thing is for
certain—“All Hail Obama” was a spectacle to behold.
Speaking of imperial-like ostentation, the President-elect made quite a spectacle at a recent press conference. When a particular reporter, John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, asked Mr. Obama a reasonable question regarding the now-infamous Rod Blagojevich and the situation in Chicago, the imperial Mr. Obama became indignant and refused to allow the reporter to finish his question:
“John, let me just cut you off…because I don't want you to waste your question. As I indicated yesterday, we've done a full review of this…the facts are going to be released next week, it would be inappropriate for me to comment…because, the story for example that you just talked about in your own paper, I haven't confirmed that it was accurate and I don't want to get into the details at this point. So, do you have another question?”
When the bold reporter refused to sit down and continued to probe the President-elect—as he dutifully should as a respectable journalist—Mr. Obama again silenced him while visibly displaying his agitation. After all, if the President-elect doesn't want to answer a question he finds displeasing, why should he?
How very regal of you, Mr. Obama.
Unfortunately, it appears America may be in store for a return of the imperial presidency, the likes of which the nation hasn't seen since the days of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
President Nixon, who apparently saw himself as more than a just a president, saw trifling things like laws and rules as below him. As the new Frost/Nixon movie poignantly reminds us, Tricky Dick once said:
“When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.”
In the case of President Johnson, a leader who exploited unchecked power from a grieving populace, imperial presidential administrations can even lead to war.
And now Barack Obama, with his symbolic self-honoring, silencing of the press, and narcissistic overkill, is heading on a train ride to not merely an inauguration, but a coronation. You might even call it a triumphal entry.
However, as CNN's Campbell Brown pitches a bit of royal fit regarding Mr. Obama's demeanor at his recent press conference, she ought to take a step back and realize how the President-elect got to where he is today. The media, including Campbell Brown, helped cultivate Mr. Obama's Emperor-like demeanor. In her monologue, Mrs. Brown claims the media's role is “not to support President-elect Obama, but to challenge him…to do their best to hold him accountable.”
Yet, Mrs. Brown, why shouldn't Barack Obama be offended by a slightly pointed question? He's simply not used to them!
At virtually no time during the campaign did the mainstream media challenge Barack Obama or hold him accountable in any way. Rather, the media enthusiastically protected the former Democratic presidential nominee, giving him a get-out-of-scrutiny-free card and a whole lot of adoration. After all, who could forget:
• MSNBC's Chris Matthews enthusing about the “thrill” running up his leg when he hears Barack Obama speak?
• Or Clair Simpson of Good Morning America gushing over Barack Obama's “fluid poetry” and “overnight political rock star” status?
• Or PBS's Gwen Ifill and her glowing literary tribute: “Breakthrough: Politics in the Age of Obama”
Naturally, Mr. Obama would interpret this latest journalistic negligence as a sign to reign royally. And although we should be thankful the President-elect isn't cutting off the heads of dissidents in the style of emperors of old, his cutting off of reporters ought to be seriously worrisome for those who believe the President is to be of—not above—the people.
William Warren is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.