Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Obama's Frozen Smile

Last Wednesday President Obama hosted a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Among his duties he had to pose for portraits with visiting dignitaries. The photo array is posted on the State Department website.

After looking through the photos, an enterprising young man named Eric Spiegelman compressed them into a 23 second slideshow. When you look at this collection of slides you are struck by the fact that Obama has exactly the same facial expression in every picture.

For sporting the same frozen smile in every frame he seems, as Neo-neocon says, spooky-scary. She is correctly alarmed at the fact that Obama has transformed his face into a mask.

For a link to the slide show and some excellent commentary, see her post. Link here.

For his part Spiegelman says that we do not have a real president, but a wax figure or a robot. When I looked at slides I was thinking that perhaps the president had tired of all the photo-ops and had asked Mme Tussauds to send over a stand-in.

By definition, people who wear masks have something to hide. As Neo-neocon notes, Obama has presented himself as a congenial, moderate, centrist Democrat. Behind this mask he has pursued a more radically leftist agenda.

Law professor Richard Epstein has known Obama for some time. He always marveled at the man's preternatural ability to hide his thoughts and feelings. As Epstein put it: "He keeps all of his thoughts to himself.... He basically knows how to keep that shield over his face."

In the most literal way, it's all about face. People who wear masks do not, by defintion, have face. They are hiding their true identity and attempting to convince the world to accept a mirage.

People know who you are because they recognize your face. Face is your social identity; it is who you are. But it is more than that: your face is an organ of expression. Through its lines and movements you express your thoughts and feelings.

Face is both who you are and what you stand for. This is especially true for leaders.

By definition, someone who hides behind a mask must be hiding what he really believes. Thus, he cannot be trusted. You never know whether he is telling the truth about what he wants to do or is spinning an elaborate web of deceit.

Having face also means that you belong to a group. No one who has face pretends that he does not. You might be humble about displaying a badge of honor, but you do not pretend that you have no honor.

Your face is your reputation, your moral integrity as a member of a group. Face is something that you work for and earn.

A man who has no face might have lost it through disreputable actions or he might not have accomplished enough to have gained it.

Or else, he may simply be hiding his true intentions in order to trick people into accepting something that they would never accept willingly.

Now, more and more people no longer believe in Obama's promises. Lately, this has included Obama's media enablers.

Howard Fineman of Newsweek begins a recent essay with a reference to Obama's sculpted, stone-faced smile: "If ubiquity were the measure of a presidency, Obama would already be grinning
at us from Mount Rushmore.... The president's problem is not that he is too visible; it's the lack of content in what he says when he shows up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on stage is the Answer." Link here.

Let's underscore Fineman's phrase: "presence on stage." Surely, he is correct to see Obama acting a role, playing a part, performing in a play, wearing a mask... but not being a consequential political leader.

Also, Richard Cohen writes in the Washington Post: "Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States.... The candidate has yet to become the commander-in-chief." Link here.

Among those who have not been lured by the mask is Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France. After listening to Obama's U.N. reveries about a nuclear-free world, Sarkozy responded: " We live in a real world, not a virtual world.... President Obama himself has said that he dreams of a world without nuclear weapons. Before our very eyes two countries are doing exactly the opposite at this moment.... I support America's 'extended hand.' But what have these proposals for dialogue produced...? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges. And last but not least, it has resulted in a statement by Iranian leaders calling for wiping off the map a Member of the United Nations.... What are we to do?... At a certain moment hard facts will force us to make decisions."

When you are hiding behind a mask you are avoiding the hard facts, you are disconnecting from reality, and delaying decisions.

The price of living on stage is that you see yourself spouting someone else's lines, waiting for the play to take its predetermined course, frightened that someone might discover that it is all a sham.

You do not see yourself as a consequential player whose actions can change the game. Thus, you are more likely sit back waiting for your cues, offering the occasional soliloquy, and doing nothing.

To his credit Sarkozy has been among the first to see this. His tone is firm and strong, because he understands how dangerous the world can become when an American president abrogates his leadership role.

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