Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Perfect Gift

It's been a sad couple of months for US-UK diplomatic relations. Between the unnecessarily rude return of a valuable (and venerated) bust of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill donated to the White House by former Prime Minister Tony Blair as a gesture of friendship, to last week's "amateur reception" of current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, political satirists can no longer complain that there is nothing to parody about Barack Obama.

There was speculation that Obama's dissatisfaction with the Churchill bust was due to tough actions taken by Britain against the extremely violent Mau-Mau uprising in early-1950s Kenya, during Churchill's second and final tenure in office, and the suffering endured by Obama's Kenyan grandfather during that rebellion.

It's been a while, so it's understandable if we've all forgotten this, but President Bush's father, former President and former pilot George H. W. Bush, had his plane shot out of the sky by the Japanese during WWII; yet I don't recall him bearing a grudge against Japan for his near-death experience while he was in office. (Unless that televised act of vomiting all over their embarrassed Prime Minister was a staged retribution...) He put the war behind him. Presidents Nixon, Kennedy and Eisenhower were veterans of the Second World War, and seemed able to put aside their experiences with the Japanese and German people who had tried so hard to kill them and the men in their commands not so long before... yet Obama still bears a grudge against Churchill?

Barack Obama may be the most powerful man in the world, but increasingly he appears as also the most pathetic. For all that he has at his fingertips, this week's telling exchange of gifts between President Obama and Prime Minister Brown reveals Obama as poor indeed, a naked emperor exposed as lacking the greatest gift we can give to ourselves: the blessing of humility.

When it comes to giving a gift to a friend, you are supposed to think less of yourself, and more of your friend. Ideally the search is for something the friend would have dearly loved to have gotten for themselves, but might have held off doing, usually out of self-deferential humility ("I don't deserve this, you shouldn't have done it"), or for not having the time to devote to such self-satisfying searches themselves. The more you value the friendship, the more readily you can summon the imagination, and the patient perseverance, to perceive what would make "the perfect gift" to give that friend. Such gifts are an investment of time as well as treasure, so that when the friend's eyes meet yours, you both know the unspoken truth: with your gift you gave some of yourself, to me.

Gordon Brown seems to have had experience giving gifts, judging by the thought that must have gone into the selection of one particular item he presented to President Obama: an ornamental pen holder made from wood taken from the HMS Gannet, a British sloop which cruised the Mediterranean and Red Seas in the latter half of the 19th century as part of Britain's expensive commitment to rid the world of Islamist slave ships carrying black Africans into a life of bondage in the Middle East:
In the Red Sea, the Africans it saved would have come, among other places, from Kenya. ... It is quite possible that grandfather’s ancestors would, had it not been for the Royal Navy, have been carried away to slavery in Arabia.

What thoughtful gift does Obama offer, in return? 25 classic American movies on dvd. The Daily Mail prints an unofficial list:

1- Citizen Kane
2- The Godfather
3- Casablanca
4- Raging Bull
5- Singin' In The Rain
6- Gone With The Wind
7- Lawrence Of Arabia
8- Schindler's List
9- Vertigo
10- The Wizard Of Oz
11- City Lights
12- The Searchers
13- Star Wars
14- Psycho
15- 2001: A Space Odyssey
16- Sunset Boulevard
17- The Graduate
18- The General
19- On The Waterfront
20- It's A Wonderful Life
21- Chinatown
22- Some Like It Hot
23- The Grapes Of Wrath
24- ET
25- To Kill A Mockingbird

Presuming that he did bestir himself to pay attention to the films on this list, it seems that Obama knows as little about American movies as he does everything else: offering #7, Lawrence of Arabia, isn't even an American movie, it's British.

An article in the Telegraph offering background on Prime Minister Brown's visit gets to the root of the cause of the diplomatic black eye delivered to the Anglo-American bond of friendship; an appalling inexperience fuels Obama's lack of perspective and monumental ingratitude. It also explains why, unlike the other wartime Presidents before him, Obama may not be willing to see a nation's big picture, good and bad, its acts of atonement as well as its sins; that would require the gift of humility, to admit that none of us are perfect.
British officials [admit] that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama's inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president's surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama's inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to "even fake an interest in foreign policy". A British official conceded that the furore surrounding the apparent snub to Mr Brown had come as a shock to the White House. ...

The American source said: "Obama is overwhelmed. There is a zero sum tension between his ability to attend to the economic issues and his ability to be a proactive sculptor of the national security agenda.
The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key.

The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: "There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment."
The Sunday Telegraph understands that one of Mr Obama's most prominent African American backers, whose endorsement he spent two years cultivating, has told friends that he detects a weakness in Mr Obama's character.

"The one real serious flaw I see in Barack Obama is that he thinks he can manage all this," the well-known figure told a Washington official, who spoke to this newspaper. "He's underestimating the flood of things that will hit his desk." A Democratic strategist, who is friends with several senior White House aides, revealed that the president has regularly appeared worn out and drawn during evening work sessions with senior staff in the West Wing and has been forced to make decisions more quickly than he is comfortable.

Helpfully, in the spirit of friendship, the Telegraph article leaves some clues for the next head of state scheduled to visit the White House, as they puzzle over what might constitute the Perfect Gift for President Obama..:
"People say he looks tired more often than they're used to," the strategist said. "He's still calm, but there have been flashes of irritation when he thinks he's being pushed to make a decision sooner than he wants to make it. He looks like he needs a cigarette."


Michael J. Bernard said...

not only is he quite possibly LAZY, but a confirmed narcissist--and milking the crisis to propel his agenda of social spending while dragging his feet on actually addressing the financial crisis.


Dag said...

Time for me to pull out my Belizean passport. "Obama? Never heard of him."

truepeers said...

Increasingly, only the true believers won't see the naked emperor(s), and so there will be an opportunity for a renewal of politics, as people get sick of the MSM-mediated narcissistic personality cults, or reveal themselves as truly dead to normal freedom, beyond conversation. Will we be too angry to see the opportunity for a new exchange, will we be too resourceless, will we be in the jungles of South America, have we learned yet how to be or promote models of real political transcendence for each other, that we may focus a new political exchange over the nature of our shared reality and its possible futures? Let's start to re-build capital now, away from the madding fray... let's invest less in our resentment of failed men and religions.

Dag said...

OK, Peers, but if that doesn't work, I'm going back to the jungle.

Charles Henry said...

Michael, that's a powerful article you've put together... those quotations of former Obama acquaintances, all in sequence like that, really add up to a bleak big portrait. Funny how the media never went looking for these guys during the presidential election...

No wonder we never saw any actual self-admitted friends of Obama stumping for him on the campaign trail. He simply doesn't make friends, only allies, as the hapless Gordon Brown can now attest.

Dag, I thought you, of all people, would sympathize with the concluding observation in the Telegraph article..!

Dag said...

I'm not going anywhere on account of my disgust at the Left in America and the gullible voters back home doing this terrible thing. i.e. electing Obama. I like a challenge more than I like easy living. I prefer my challenges to be in sports of a lesser impact than the whole field of the nation. I like the competition involved in a test like this, and the skill needed to win, and the comradery, and so on. But I'd rather being playing on someone else's home turf.

And jungles aren't really as cool as some make them out to be. So I guess I'm in for the long haul after all. I've probably had enough of dinner-plate sized spiders anyway. You know, it gets old after a while. Like the many times I've come home and said, "Martha, where's the couch?" and she says, "Well, Dag, I told you to do something about the snake around here...."

So we deal with Obama and the Left wreckers. Really, life is good.

Abu Abdullah said...

"People say he looks tired more often than they're used to," the strategist said. "He's still calm, but there have been flashes of irritation when he thinks he's being pushed to make a decision sooner than he wants to make it. He looks like he needs a cigarette."

He just cannot have peace when he's eating his waffles, can he?

Dag said...

You're going to get a terrible scolding if you don't find room in your life to Praise! Obama! for working Himself! into the ground for our worthless selves.

Toronto Real Estate Agent said...

Come on people, give the man a break. He has done something that many had not believed could be done. And now hes just exhausted. Plus, everyone makes mistakes and whether its big ones or small ones they need to be forgotten. Unless, like the Bush administration, you make mistakes daily. Then it's a problem.

Take care, Jay