The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman, provoked ridicule when he said last week that "Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar."
Give Obama his due. He wrote two books, about himself. They show someone fascinating by his own "improbable" history. They do not show someone whose mind is a well-stocked library, who is deeply familiar with history, that is with men and events in the past, a familiarity that was the hallmark of the memoirs of political figures who wrote in the past. When Clemenceau, or Lord Grey of Falloden, or Viscount Morley, wrote about their lives and times, they also showed a keen awareness of, a knowledge of, other places, other times, and those who particpated in the events of the past, and those who wrote about them.
In Obama's works, we see -- Barack Obama. He is the hero, at times winningly self-deprecating, but still the hero, of his tale. I doubt if he mentions Herodotus or Thucydides, or Pericles or Plato, or Aristotle or Aristophanes, or Cicero or Livy, or Caesar or Caesar Augustus. That's okay. But he also fails to mention all those who, beyond classical antiquity, have been read and understood by, Lord Grey,,and Viscount Morley, and other writers of celebrated memorials. Not Hobbes or Locke or Hume, not Montesquieu, not Bentham or Mill, not Bagehot or Oakeshott, nothing to indicate that he is more than an ordinarly-educated American kid who came out of the colleges and law schools of the last two to three decades, after the collapse, that is, in so many places, of the teaching of both history and literature. He's just a little too self-made for my taste. Would that he had studied history, would that his two memoirs, so lacking in depth, gave some sense that he was not born yesterday, did not believe that his three years as a kid in a most unrepresentive (Muslim) school in a most unrepresentative (Muslim) city at a most unrepresentative (Muslim) time in a most unrepresentative (Muslim) country made him knowledgeable about Islam, would that his acceptance of the Idols of the Age (his books reek with rhetorical incense to those Idols) were not subject, at this point, to deep re-examination, so that they might no longer be objects of accepted worship or burnt offerings or genuflection but, rather, determinedly overturned.
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