This week, Matt Drudge turned The Obamas, by New York Times columnist Jodi Kantor, into an instant bestseller by linking to a story that cited an anecdote from the book. It claimed that the Obamas held a spare-no-expense Halloween party at the White House. “For the Obamas’ first celebration in the White House, Desiree Rogers and her team turned the building into a spooky wonderland, with orange spotlights, thousand-pound pumpkins, and musicians dressed like skeletons,” Kantor reports. Inside the White House, at the VIP party, kids could play with George Lucas’ actual Wookies. More prominently, the State Dining Room was “decorated by the movie director Tim Burton in his signature creepy-comic style,” based on his new movie Alice in Wonderland. Johnny Depp showed up dressed as the Mad Hatter.
The White House hid the party from public view. They didn’t want the rest of the nation to know how they were spending our hard-earned tax dollars on an episode of MTV’s My Sweet Sixteen. Thus, neither Burton nor Depp showed up on White House visitor logs.
While this revelation in Kantor’s book is dismaying, it’s her portrayal of our Commander-In-Chief that is truly shocking. Barack Obama comes off as a man with deep personal issues, manifested in a supreme self-centeredness and tremendous insecurity. He is emotionally fragile, unable to stand criticism, and bewildered by dissent.
Take, for example, Obama’s tendency to cry. In Kantor’s book, Obama is repeatedly on the verge of tears. “During the campaign,” writes Kantor, “Obama told friends he couldn’t look at [Valerie] Jarrett during speeches lest he become too emotional and start to cry.” (That was because Jarrett played both sister and mother to Obama, as Kantor relates.) At the launch party for his poorly-written second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, Kantor says, “he stood alone at the front of the tent, overcome with tears.” Just a few pages later, Obama is at it again, “tears in his eyes” while watching his daughter “practice dance moves,” since he sees her so seldom. Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the Obamas “felt better understood than they did in Washington” – and once again, Obama was “fighting back tears” during his speech.
Sensitivity is fine and dandy, but all too often, it comes along with serious insecurities of narcissism. That’s clearly the case with Obama, who apparently surrounds himself with women who overpower him (Michelle, Valerie Jarrett), then bullies everyone else. That self-centeredness translates into an obsession with power, even when it is exercised in absolute trivialities. A particularly illuminating example comes from early in Obama’s tenure in office. “Even amid the confounding crises of his first months in office,” Kantor writes,
“Barack Obama took satisfaction in a simple, glorious new truth: he was the president of the United States. One day he walked out of a meeting in his chief of staff’s office and began to flip through a stack of magazines on the desk of a young assistant to [Rahm] Emanuel. ‘Whose are these?’ he asked the assistant. Well, they just got sent here, addressed to the chief of staff, she replied. Then she paused and rethought her answer. ‘But everything in the White House is yours … so technically they’re yours,’ she said. The president shot her a satisfied look. The following day, he passed her desk and he magazines again. ‘Whose magazines are these?’ he asked. She had the answer ready this time. ‘They’re your magazines, Mr. President,” she said. Obama grinned and continued on his way.”
Everything is yours, Mr. President. Those are the words Obama longs to hear – and those are the words he’s longed to hear his entire career. Kantor briefly traces his political rise – carefully avoiding mention of his dubious relationships with Jeremiah Wright or Tony Rezko or Bill Ayers – portraying him as an idealist among idealists, a naïve Mr. Smith Goes to Washington type who wanted to be a non-politician politician.
But, of course, the truth is somewhat less noble. Obama comes across in the book as profoundly power-hungry – he couldn’t get anything done as a State Senator, so he moved on to the Senate; he couldn’t get anything done in the Senate, so he moved on to the presidency.
He’s frustrated with the presidency, too. “When Obama reflected privately on the presidency that fall, he often spoke about the limitations of the office,” Kantor reports about Obama’s first autumn in the White House. He was suffering from a “dawning sense of political powerlessness.” This is the highest form of egotism known to man. The president of the United States is the most powerful individual on earth. He does not get to complain about his lack of power. No wonder Obama has publicly mused about the beauties of the Chinese system – the only step up from the presidency is monarchy or dictatorship.
In China, the dictators need brook no criticism. And Obama can’t stand criticism. In another fascinating tidbit, Obama’s friend Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley Law School, recommended via email that Obama not pick Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff the day after the election. “Soon after he sent the note,” says Kantor, “the phone rang. It was Jarrett, warning Edley of a very angry phone call to come. ‘Why would you do this today, of all days?’ Obama demanded of Edley. He wanted to savor his moment of victory free of all criticism, Edley concluded; he did not have much tolerance for seeing his judgment doubted. The old friends never spoke again.”
Obama has carried that petulant attitude forward. We have now seen it on the public stage, day after day -- a man exorcising his personal demons by bullying and whining his way through his presidency, blaming his political enemies and the American public for all his woes. It is not pretty. And looking behind the scenes with Jodi Kantor is even uglier still.
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