Jonathan Last has discovered that Obama is a vain and ambitious man. This is hard-nosed investigative reporting at its best. Ahem. The article is not much more than a compilation of very familiar episodes for anyone who has spent much time following Obama’s career. One part of the article jumped out at me. For some reason, Last insisted on padding this redundant article with an entirely unnecessary lie. Last writes:
Obama’s vanity is even more jarring when paraded in the foreign arena. In April, Poland suffered a national tragedy when its president, first lady, and a good portion of the government were killed in a plane crash. Obama decided not to go to the funeral. He played golf instead.
Leave aside the small matter that this does not actually show Obama’s vanity. In any case, Last is being deliberately misleading by making it seem as if Obama had chosen to play golf over paying his respects in Poland. Let’s recall that President Kaczynski’s tragic death on his way to commemorate the Katyn massacre occurred at a time when most commercial air traffic in western Europe and across the Atlantic had been shut down because of the eruption of that Icelandic volcano. As it turned out, the shutdown of commercial traffic was probably an overreaction, and the risk to jet engines from the volcanic ash may not have been as great as originally feared, but at the time no one was going to be flying through the ash cloud from the U.S. to get to Europe. Angela Merkel was not able to reach Poland in time because of the delay in her return from her visit here, and many other heads of government and heads of state who might have wanted to be there were unable to attend. All of this was quite memorable, and it is also something that is very easily checked. Last must assume his audience has very short memories, or perhaps he is more interested in scoring another cheap point than in reporting things straightforwardly.
Perhaps more striking is Last’s decision to follow up this bit of deception with a complaint that Obama did not attend the 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Obama’s non-participation at this event undermines the vanity charge in at least one way. By not attending and by refusing to pretend that the collapse of communism was primarily or solely an American accomplishment, and by honoring the peoples of eastern Europe and the USSR for freeing themselves (which is what actually happened), he kept the occasion from becoming another exercise in self-congratulation for the U.S. and for himself as the current President. Presumably a man defined so strongly by his vanity, as Last claims Obama is, would have been there in a flash to soak up the applause and fanfare.
It seems to me that there’s no question that Obama is vain. I don’t know how anyone who campaigns for office and has the presumption to consider himself worthy of being entrusted with so much power could be anything other than vain. It seems to me that it is inherently unhealthy and dangerous for any one man to be entrusted with that much power, but this is the gargantuan executive that Last and his colleagues adore. If they would have more humble, self-effacing chief executives, perhaps they should call for a significant reduction in the powers of the office.
It seems to count against the overall argument that Last’s two chief examples of Obama’s vanity overseas are misrepresentations or misunderstandings on on the part of Last, and it hardly helps Last’s credibility that he felt the need to misrepresent one of the episodes to invent evidence for his thesis.