Messiah or Narcissus

by Derrick G. Jeter

Almost from the day Barack Obama began his campaign for the White House some have compared him to a Christ-like figure, a messiah—“transformational” is the word often employed. Of course there are the jokes and political cartoons, like the one I saw after the Obama’s took possession of Bo, the family dog. It depicted the President taking Bo out for his first walk—the President walking on water and Bo dogpaddling. Then there are the more artistic links between Obama and Jesus, as Michael D’Antuono illustrates in his painting, “The Truth,” which was revealed on Obama’s 100th day in office. In D’Antuono’s piece, Obama is depicted in a crucified position, holding back a black veil, revealing the Presidential Seal; atop the President’s head is a crown of thorns. Blaspheme aside, the real question is whether Barack Obama is a self-sacrificing leader or merely a self-consumed politician?
One could argue that Obama’s unprecedented three primetime news conferences in his first three months in office would tend toward the latter—that he, like Narcissus of Greek mythology, can only hear his own self-adulation while he admires himself in the reflection of the teleprompter. But a better indicator as to whether President Obama is messianic or narcissistic is his conduct on his recent trips to Europe and Latin America.
As was widely reported, President Obama while in France apologized for the arrogant and dismissive attitude so often shown by America in the past. However, under his administration a new era of humility and understanding toward not only Europe but all countries—allies and enemies alike—would now mark America’s foreign policy. Such sentiments were enough to raise the question of whether Obama believes in any form of American exceptionalism.
As distressing as his European Apology Tour was, it was this time in Latin America that final answered the question—Barack Obama is no messiah. His inactions on this trip communicated that the American President is more interested in his personal popularity and respect, even from thuggish, two-bit tyrants, than he is in the reputation of the country he heads. When Obama passively sat through a fifty minute anti-American diatribe by the Nicaraguan President (and the title is used extremely loosely), Daniel Ortega, and all he could muster afterwards during his remarks to the Summit of the Americas was, “I am very grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old,” then only one conclusion can be drawn: he is Narcissus.1 Does Obama not realize that the president is the living embodiment of American ideas and ideals, of all of our history? He is our representative to the world, and what he represented was “Say what you will about my country, but leave me out of it.”
The presidency isn’t about a person, it’s about the country. There are times when moneychangers must be thrown out and “woes” pronounced, as Jesus did; times when the American President must let it be known that he stands by his country, even if it appears to others as arrogant and dismissive to European delicacies and Latin American dictators.
It’s tough language, but it comes from a fellow President, Theodore Roosevelt:
Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the President or about any one else.2
The President of the United States was elected to stand by the country, not to sit idly by while her reputation is besmirched by no better than a neighborhood bully. It’s simply unAmerican and unpatriotic for an American president to be so self-consumed when he ought to be self-sacrificing.
1. Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at the Summit of the America, Opening Ceremony,” Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, April 17, 2009, (accessed April 29, 2009).
2. Theodore Roosevelt, in Theodore Roosevelt Cyclopedia, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart and Herbert Ronald Ferleger (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood; Oyster Bay, N.Y.: Theodore Roosevelt Association, 1989), 416, (accessed April 29, 2009).