President’s ‘modesty’ is selective

July 9, 2010


— Remember NASA? It once represented to the world the apogee of American scientific and technological achievement. Here is President Obama’s vision of NASA’s mission, as explained by administrator Charles Bolden:

“One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and math and engineering.”

Apart from the psychobabble — farcically turning a space-faring enterprise into a self-esteem enhancer — what’s the sentiment behind this charge? Sure, America has put a man on the moon, led the information revolution, won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation by far — but, on the other hand, a thousand years ago al-Khwarizmi gave us algebra.

Bolden seems quite intent on driving home this message of achievement equivalence — lauding, for example, Russia’s contribution to the space station. Russia? In the 1990s, the Russian space program fell apart, leaving the United States to pick up the slack and the tab for the missing Russian contributions to get the space station built.

For good measure, Bolden added that the U.S. cannot get to Mars without international assistance. Beside the fact that this is not true, contrast this with the elan and self-confidence of President Kennedy’s pledge that America would land on the moon within the decade.

There was no finer expression of belief in American exceptionalism than Kennedy’s. Obama has a different take. As he said last year in Strasbourg, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Which of course means: If we’re all exceptional, no one is.

Take human rights. After Obama’s meeting with the president of Kazakhstan, Mike McFaul of the National Security Council reported that Obama actually explained to the leader of that thuggish kleptocracy that we too are working on perfecting our own democracy.

Nor is this the only example of an implied moral equivalence that diminishes and devalues America. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner reported that in discussions with China about human rights, the U.S. side brought up Arizona’s immigration law — “early and often.” As if there is the remotest connection between that and the persecution of dissidents, jailing of opponents, suppression of religion routinely practiced by the Chinese dictatorship.

Nothing new here. In his major addresses, Obama’s modesty about his own country has been repeatedly on display as, in one venue after another, he has gratuitously confessed America’s alleged failing — from disrespecting foreigners to having lost its way morally after 9/11.

It’s fine to recognize the achievements of others and be nonchauvinistic about one’s country. But Obama’s modesty is curiously selective. When it comes to himself, modesty is in short supply.

It began with the almost comical self-inflation of his presidential campaign, from the still inexplicable mass rally in Berlin in front of a Prussian victory column to the Greek columns framing him at the Democratic convention. And it carried into his presidency, from his posture of philosopher-king adjudicating between America’s sins and the world’s to his speeches marked by a spectacularly promiscuous use of the first-person pronoun “I.”

Notice, too, how Obama habitually refers to Cabinet members and other high government officials as “my” — “my secretary of homeland security,” “my national security team,” “my ambassador.” The more normal — and respectful — usage is to say “the,” as in “the secretary of state.” These are, after all, public officials sworn to serve the nation and the Constitution, not just the man who appointed them.

It’s a stylistic detail, but quite revealing of Obama’s exalted view of himself. Not surprising, perhaps, in a man whose major achievement before acceding to the presidency was writing two biographies, both about himself.

Obama is not the first president with a large streak of narcissism. But the others had equally expansive feelings about their country. Obama’s modesty about America would be more understandable if he treated himself with the same reserve. What is odd is to have a president so convinced of his own magnificence, yet not of his own country’s.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


cato_the_elder 6 years ago

It has taken awhile for people to wake up to how embarrassingly narcissistic Obama is, but Krauthammer is right on. In viewing himself as an anointed savior, Obama is every bit as dangerous as European monarchs of old who quite seriously viewed themselves as kings by divine right. As I recall, distate for monarchy had something to do with the American Revolution.

jaywalker 6 years ago

As do yours for us all, Defender. Have you ever posted something that's not ad hominem?

jaywalker 6 years ago

That was a rhetorical question, pal. When you actually make a rational comment.... well, that'll be the first time.

jaywalker 6 years ago

What's to comprehend? They're nothing but name -calliing wastes of space. And it's 'catatonic', not that proper spelling would have helped that make sense.

Jim Phillips 6 years ago

I once had a lawyer tell me that trial attorneys have three strategies; attack the facts, attack the testimony if you can't attack the facts, attack the witness as a last resort. In other words, when all else fails, hurl insults and resort to name-calling.

weeslicket 6 years ago

ding. ding. ding. a winner, and so early on. nicely done.

Maddy Griffin 6 years ago

" in order to form a more perfect Union"... It will never be perfect, but we can get closer to that ideal. Obama 2012!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Most of us desire a stronger country, not a 'dictator' who annoints himself with additional authority and importance."

You mean the like what the adherents of the "unitary executive" worked so hard to establish through all the Reagan/Bush/Cheney administrations?


notorious_agenda 6 years ago

From your link it appears all of us are adherent to unitary executives. Unfortunately, you make no distinction between which "type" you mention.

Stuart Evans 6 years ago

seriously? did you forget "...do whatever you have to do,"

The ends do NOT justify the means. This president has done everything you hated about the previous president and so much more. He's a puppet, criminal; selected for his pigment and bullsh* abilities.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Grammaddy, if you're that committed, you'd better watch your flank. Hillary and Bill are armed and ready.

jonas_opines 6 years ago

Hmmm. . . . Krauthhammar and Cato complaining about somebody Else's narcissism. . . .

Stuart Evans 6 years ago

Krauthammar is an author, Cato is a forum-poster, and the narcissist in chief is the only one that the whole world pays any attention to. huge difference. the United States isn't judged by Charles or Cato.

Mixolydian 6 years ago

Excellent juxtapostition of Kennedy's vision of NASA and Obama's goofy view of our space agency.

Shows how far the democrats have fallen away from the rational moderate democrats of a generation ago, even from Clinton's administration.

A drinking game involving any Obama speech and the words "Me, myself and I" will result in permanent liver damage.

mickeyrat 6 years ago

Of course, if a Republican president had the same style of referring to 'his' Secretary of State, or 'his' foreign policy, Krauthammer would laud it as evidence of "personal accountability and responsibility in government."

devobrun 6 years ago

And the reason that the BP oil well in the gulf is still leaking is the attitude of engineers, engineering managers, oil executives, politicians and the whole world regarding action.

That's right, action.

People don't expect to take action anymore. They think a computer model, diplomatic discussions, press releases, and babble will solve the problem. Except the oil is still leaking. The hole isn't plugged. The world didn't prepare for a real life problem. Katrina was also not addressed properly. Other problems will follow because we are too busy spending our time improving relationships with thousand-year-old civilizations.

And the Iranians are about to build a nuke.....while they stone people to death for adultery. And the head of NASA is charged with improving relations with them.

And the can-do attitude of engineers is now the can-model attitude. Can-talk attitude. Can't-do attitude. And we worry about Obama's image. So what? Fix the hole in the ground.

feeble 6 years ago

I wonder if Devo will change his tune, should Adm. Allen's predictions about Top Hat Number 10 prove to be correct?

jafs 6 years ago

Maybe you should stop watching/reading the news, Tom - it seems to make you sick a lot of the time.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Mixolydian, great comment re the drinking game. Hadn't heard that one.

weeslicket 6 years ago

it's really just a revisit of the bob newhart show game, "bob".

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Defenseless, glad I irritated you again this morning. Love your hyperbole. Great way to start the day.

c_doc77 6 years ago

I don't know what to make of Obama half the time. I think he mostly says and does things off-the-cuff. Its like he's always winging it as if he really doesn't know what to do or how to behave, sort of like his predecessor, only smoother and more articulate. I really think he is so used to trying to tell people what they want to hear that he has a hard time understanding who the President of the United States really is. I'm not saying this as an insult. This is just my observation. When he goes around the world bowing to everyone, I get the impression that he wants to appear charming and respectful, but he has difficulty with reconciling that with the respect his own position commands.

Mr. Shewmon has said the president is a fraud. That's a harsh accusation, and one I would not use too lightly, but in reality that's been my impression of him since the beginning of his presidential bid. And I might not be so forward in saying so if I had not predicted exactly which "campaign promises" were obviously lies. Of course his defenders would say he tried to do the things he promised, but was deterred. That's what they always say, but in this case it totally wasn't like that. He said he was going to halt taxes on those making under $250,000 per year, he was going to allow the public to view all the bills on the internet for a period of days before he signed them, he was going to stop the unconstitutional practice of signing statements, and he has changed his tune a number of times on Iraq. I watched as people worked themselves up in a frenzy over this man, elevating him to cult status, but all the while I was telling them, "He's lying to you."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Obama is a centrist politician whose natural tendency is to compromise, and he knows that if he doesn't play the game by the long-established rules, he's locked out of the game.

His campaign rhetoric was just that. Politicians often make high-minded promises in the election, only to find out that the inertia of the political status quo is too great for even presidents to budge very far in one direction or another. Obama has been willing to settle for way less than a half a loaf on every issue he's tackled to date, and I don't think we should expect him to change that approach.

The previous administration tried very hard to change the rules, albeit in very destructive ways, and all it got us was one disaster after another, all of which we'll be paying for for decades to come. So, Obama is at least a slight improvement, and that faint praise is about all I can offer.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

To an extent, you're right, Tom-- Obama has shown that he'll never compromise with the left wing of the Democratic Party. He's a corporatist, DLC Democrat all the way.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

He's only "far left" to those on the extreme far right.

devobrun 6 years ago

Since there are no definitions or metrics for left and right, the statements are specious. Look great, but useless in rational thought. Well meaning, but so poorly defined that right and left are throw-away concepts. They serve only to compare direction. They are pointers only. No scale.

Obama wants more government involvement in the workings of American life. He can't pay for it without big business forking over the cash.

If some alternative economy comes along and renders capitalism feckless, then Obama and bozo and a whole lot of other people would socialize the heck out of America. But apparently there is no system that generates wealth like capitalism.

So, Obama must court the rich kids. He must make business pay, but not shut them down. If Obama goes as social-program as bozo would like......Greece here we come. Maybe the Chinese will bail us out......oh, wait, they already are because business is....failing. Uh oh.

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

The smartest thing Axelrod ever did was pick Joe "where's the Xanax?" Biden to be VP. It's made Dear Leader almost impeachment-proof.

c_doc77 6 years ago

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus said:

"His campaign rhetoric was just that. Politicians often make high-minded promises in the election, only to find out that the inertia of the political status quo is too great for even presidents to budge very far in one direction or another."

I see quite a few problems with this logic. First, he never even attempted to do many of the things he promised, and if anybody was able to energize the [Democratic] status quo, it was this guy. He had an overwhelming victory and overwhelming support from his party, who just happened to have a lot of power when he was elected. With respect to his [ever-changing] promises on Iraq and the tax increases you might have a case, but you can be sure that there was no political "inertia" that prevented him from displaying the contents of the bills he would sign. We have to view this particular promise in the context of the campaign rhetoric, which emphasized empowering the American people and giving them a say in the governing of their nation. So although this is a singular promise, it represented the fresh new approach to citizen empowerment that helped Obama win the presidency. It was part of the mantra, "Yes, [we] can" - the "we" being the American people, as if he was one of us.

And in the case of the signing statements, there is no political pressure to keep doing that. All he has to do is stop! Its so easy even a "constitutional scholar" like the president can figure that out. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans would fight him on that.

The fact of the matter is that he sold himself as the agent of change, and he has proven himself to be the polar opposite of that. I know it is customary to give politicians a pass when they deceive people, but I don't see it that way. And if we are ever going to oppose the status quo, then we must erect a higher standard of political accountability. A lie is a lie is a lie.

jafs 6 years ago


I also tried to point out to folks while he was campaigning that his campaign rhetoric was just that.

They didn't want to hear it.

But that's true of all politicians that I'm aware of - they say what people want to hear in order to get elected.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

" A lie is a lie is a lie."

I don't think we'll know for a long time which of his campaign promises were conscious lies, and which were just naive wishful thinking that haven't survived the realities of inside-the-beltway power politics.

I didn't vote for Obama, primarily because presidential votes are nearly pointless in a one-party state like Kansas. But also because I'm fairly pessimistic that anyone can get one of the major party nominations without having already sold their souls to the political and economic status quo.

Still, I was slightly optimistic when he took office. While I'm disappointed with what he's done to date, I'm not particularly surprised.

BTW, of those who express displeasure at his performance so far, I'd say little more than half of them want him to move to the right. As a matter of fact, of those who say they don't like the healthcare legislation, a very high percentage wanted a single-payer plan, and won't be found at any tea parties, or voting for Republicans this November.

c_doc77 6 years ago

"I don't think we'll know for a long time which of his campaign promises were conscious lies, and which were just naive wishful thinking that haven't survived the realities of inside-the-beltway power politics."

Call me a pessimist, but I don't think there is any such thing as "naive wishful thinking" in the American political establishment of which Obama is a part. He may have played the part of the fresh-faced kid, the outsider or whatever, but he was never naive as a presidential candidate. You're not that naive. I'm not that naive, and neither was the first term senator.

Technically you're right in saying that we don't really know what was a conscious lie and what was not, but it really doesn't matter. Because if the lies were not "conscious", they were pathological - the result of a man regurgitating propaganda so long that he brainwashed himself out of reality.

"...I'm fairly pessimistic that anyone can get one of the major party nominations without having already sold their souls to the political and economic status quo."

On this we are in absolute agreement. I do believe in miracles, but that is what it would take - divine intervention.

jmadison 6 years ago

The level of journalism has sunk so low that the first mention of Bolden's comments made to al-Jazeera, are in an op-ed piece. Obama seems to be outside the mainstream of America in how he views the world. Al-Jazeera has better news gathering than AP, NY Times, or the 3 traditional network news agencies.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

What's to address? You didn't really say anything other than to describe your teevee watching habits.

Orwell 6 years ago

"Other news sources" won't report much of the Fox material because it's inaccurate and intentionally biased.

LoveThsLife 6 years ago

I so tired of Obama blaming Republicans and predecessor for the problems he is having to deal with...his party is the majority in both the House and the Senate for crying out loud! He whines and whines...just lead and listen to the people.

I can't believe he blamed Bush for the BP spill when his administration had ample time to do some oversight but didn't.

Wasn't it Truman that said "the Buck Stops Here"??? I think we could use a little more of that attitude with our current leadership.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Defenseless, anyone who posts as you did and then claims that he wasn't angry in doing it is indeed a fool.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Defenseless, did you mean to say, "...all your posts ARE angry and ignorant little rants?" See, your uncontrollable anger did you in again. Glad I was responsible.

weeslicket 6 years ago

cato says: "Defenseless, did you mean to say, "...all your posts ARE angry and ignorant little rants?" See, your uncontrollable anger did you in again. Glad I was responsible." defenseless accepted resposibility for this typo in the very next reply.

but please not (note) how cato continues to bully people over the most miniscule (hope i spelled that correctly) offense (offenses) to his sensibilities. sensibilitinarian. (::and we still don't get to say "go home little one" no matter how fully we feel that way::)

do we as a community really want to put up with this bullying, name-calling and general disrespect to forum posters? really? these behaviors feel ok to your?

jafs 6 years ago

Your point is well taken.

However, I think that cato's failures to respond to substantive questions and challenges to his perspective speak for themselves, and reveal the weaknesses in his thinking.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Defenseless, I've replied to each of your posts, but beyond your juvenile temper tantrums there's been nothing substantive to which to reply.

camper 6 years ago

Krauthammer is a master. The article deadline must have been soon approaching for Charles, so he deftly went to the bottom of the barrel to see if he can come up with another reason to stir us up and dislike President Obama even more. And of course he found one! In this case it is the president's use of the personal and possessive pronouns "I" and "my" that he has been known to use on occassion.

This article is so good, we can use it in a constructive manner as well. I'm going to be more careful that I never use these words and that I never even think them and thay I......Oh man, I've got to work on this. I can't help from using the word I. Charles, Help!

weeslicket 6 years ago

i especially liked this bit:: charles krauthammer says: "Which of course means: If we’re all exceptional, no one is."

then again. it is mathematically possible that NO ONE is exceptional. which then means that we are ALL exceptional.

ta da !!!

weeslicket 6 years ago

One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math;


...he wanted me to expand our international relationships;

For the purpose of expanding the exploration of space, OK.

see. that's how we can learn to agree.

camper 6 years ago

"Which of course means: If we’re all exceptional, no one is."

I am truly beginning to appreciate this even more. I am astounded by the sound logic displayed. Look at that quote above. I'm going to apply that same logic and see if I can come up with something just as good.

Here we go......."if all oranges are orange, no oranges are orange". Is this any good?

beatrice 6 years ago

He is the President of the United States of America! Of course he has an ego!

jaywalker 6 years ago

Probably the most rational post you've ever had, bea. Of course the man has an ego, any person worth his salt does. Not to say modesty is not a valuable trait, but you have to believe in yourself to succeed, and anyone wanting to aspire to such lofty heights must...... MUST believe highly in their abilities.
Yeah, this is one column Charles can file and forget. I'm not a fan of the President's groveling, but the comparison Charles makes is weak and incongruous.

Orwell 6 years ago

Do-it-yoursef Krauthammer column:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Obama bad! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I guess summer is the time for reruns.

Mr_B9 6 years ago

Obama is certainly relentless with blaming Bush and Co. for his failures as a leader but the real truth is Obama and his Klan will be blamed for their destruction the rest of our natural lives. Regardless who wins the next election. Amazing how that compares.

Orwell 6 years ago

True, the extreme right will continue to blame Obama for everything, regardless of who wins the next election – also regardless of the truth. Whatever happened to the old-fashioned Republican principle (or so they always say) of taking responsibility?

LoveThsLife 6 years ago

Shouldn't taking responsibility be a leadership principle regardless of party affiliation?

LoveThsLife 6 years ago

hmm kind of hard to tell since it hasn't happened yet....blaming the previous President for everything under the sun is definitely a marker of partisan politics and has been used by political pundits and those holding offices other than the Presidency. Usually, in my memory at least, Presidents refrain from that type of talk. I am going to be optimistic in saying that Obama isn't starting a new trend...I guess time will tell.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Orwell, "...the extreme right will continue to blame Obama for everything...?" Pot, meet kettle.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Weeslicket, don't be so hard on Defenseless - her feelings are very easily hurt. She's just insecure.

weeslicket 6 years ago

take responsibility for your own posts, mr. cato.

Mixolydian 6 years ago

I am ashamed of our president traveling the world and putting America in the place of a battered wife making excuses for and rationalizing an abusive husband.

Why is it necessary for Nasa to do an outreach to Muslims? Why not Sufis, or Hindus, or athiests? I get it, there are peaceful Muslims and a minority of the violent crazies. Nasa can't do anything about the crazies, and can't do anything to prevent the so called peaceful ones from becoming violent.

Once again, Krauthammer nails it. Despite the attacks on him, he's not a partisan idealogue. He wasn't particularly fond of Bush or McCain and absolutley could not stand Palin.

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