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Comparing Obama to Disraeli

By       Message Herbert Calhoun     Permalink
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Obama versus Disraeli

Andre Maurois' biography of "Disraeli" is certainly political biography in a literary class unto itself. However, the more recent "Game Change," by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin although about contemporary politics, is a book in its own right, not to be slighted as a literary work of some distinction. For even on the exalted plane where Mouris lives, "Game Change" can confidently hold it's own. Both are about the political personalities and political dynamics that framed pivotal times. Maurois' is about a single dominating personality, the only Jewish Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, during mid-Seventeen Century Britain, when arguably the British Empire was at the very peak of its glory. However, due to the "potato and corn famine," and general mismanagement of agricultural policies, Britain began a precipitous decline that arguably did not end until the post-Colonial period in the aftermath of the Second World War.

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Heilemann and Halperin's book is about the key political personalities during the pivotal U.S. Presidential election of 2008, which ended with the election of the first Black U.S. President. It too, arguably was about a season when, in the aftermath of eight years of Republican mismanagement of the economy began a decisive and precipitous decline in the U.S. standard of living and in U.S. international prestige that may not end until the U.S. has become a second rate power if not a supersized Third World country. Everyone is anticipating that it's just a matter of time before China will call in all its economic chips and replaced the U.S. as the last reigning superpower.

The similarities of the times and the fact that the leaders of the respective parties in power were of a different ethnicity than the racial majority, is a comparison that often is too uncanny to go unnoticed. The upshot is that it begs for a comparative analysis of the two leaders. With Maurois' book and what we know so far about Obama, a tentative comparison can now be made.

Disraeli versus Obama

Beyond being called upon in equally troubled times, Benjamin Disraeli and Barack Obama have some uncommon similarities but also important and rather stark differences. For instance, their contemporaries considered them both intellectual heavyweights. Obama's tenure as editor of the Harvard Law Review, a stent as a Law Professor at the University of Chicago, and the author of two well-written runaway best selling autobiographies, distinguished him as an intellect and as a writer. Disraeli had published two modestly well-received novels before the age of twenty-five. Both men, early on, were touted as "The" rising stars of their respective parties. Both had mastered the art of oratory and held the public and members of their respective parties spellbound with their speechmaking abilities and oratorical skills. Both were from humble backgrounds and made their way up the political ladder based primarily on their intellectual prowess. Both had "outsized egos" and were considered Machiavellian manipulators. And if the truth were told, both considered themselves an intellectual cut above their colleagues. Both were also plucked from the tree before they had fully ripen.

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But there the similarities must end and the differences must come into play.

Disraeli used his speeches to roast the opposition and as a bludgeon to force action and the hands of his opponents. They feared him as much as an Opossum fears an axe handle. Obama, so far, seems content to have his minions out on the front line taking the political heat and fire of his opponents. No one on the opposition sides fears Obama. Many think he is a joke and is "in over his head." The Republicans are now tickled pink that Obama does not seem to know how to fight his way out of a bipartisan paper bag. Disraeli loved nothing more than a good battle, the tougher the opponent and the more blood that flowed on the Parliament floor, the better. Obama engages in preemptive capitulation, conciliatory behavior as a "going in strategy" and tries to avoid conflict and confrontations at every turn and at all cost, even at the cost of jettisoning his political base. On the few occasions when he has sallied forth into a fight, he inevitably has returned to the safety of the Oval Office with his tailed always tucked. Take the "Beer Summit" for instance. Only the howls of his base seems to bring him out of his Oval Office foxhole, but only to make an explanatory speech, which denies the reality of his weakened positions and his obvious cowardliness.

Disraeli took great abuse because of his ethnicity and lack of strong Christian beliefs, but nevertheless did not compromise his strong position on any of the major issues. He bided his time while he bled emotionally until the respect he was due, and his positions deserved, came around. Obama on the other hand has yet to reveal that he has anything at all up his sleeve? No one yet knows what he stands for, or will stand up for? So far, his favorite position is to lay prone in his "hope-a-dope" position taking blows until his political base has to throw in the towel and say "no mas." His only excuse for this cowardly behavior can be found in the Obama mantra of "more bipartisanism" even when there is none to be found in the Washington D.C. cupboard. This has left his backers (including this one) wondering if the first Black President is really up to the challenges he has signed up for, or if he is just another empty Orator?

On the issue of ethnicity, although it caused him great pain and angst, Disraeli did not shrink away from or dodge the issue of his Jewishness. He maintained a healthy and balanced attitude towards it and took his lumps as they came, and at times they rained down on him very heavily. Despite constant bombardment, Dizzy, as he was affectionately called, always stood his ground and inevitably made successful comebacks. Obama, on the other hand, except when backed into a corner, seems allergic to his own blackness. He does not want to make it an issue even when his opponents do. Announcing early on (in the most obvious kind of political pandering) that Blacks should not expect any special attention from him, and rather incongruously admonishing, of all groups, his own, black men; and doing so in the same coded racist rhetoric most often used by the most active of American racists: His message to all black men is to shape up and live up to your responsibilities. (Only Black women and the Ku Klux Klan applauded.)

Both men were Christians. However Disraeli was weak on religion generally and although he never flirted with atheism, he did not go to any great pains to hide his lukewarm attitude towards religion. Obama on the other hand, when it became politically convenient for him, jettisoned his minister of twenty years, claiming lack of knowledge of his firebrand anti- U.S. rhetoric, despite the fact that almost all of it was true.

Disraeli was a congenital political animal, principled, and disciplined, and who knew how to play the game and played it well. He fought for the causes he championed and was a graceful loser. And he lost often. Obama and his handlers are proving to be worse than neophytes: first "triangulating" here, then "tacking" to the right there, ever in search of the elusive and non-existent center, always angling to the right, thinking they can pick up another Republican vote or two. Obama is as scared of his "left flank" (his base) as a Possum is of an axe handle. And so far, has proved to be a chameleon who is always feinting, ducking, slipping punches and then coming back, instead of with a right jab with a conciliatory speech. Disraeli kept raising the level of his game with each defeat. Obama's response to each setback is the same: more empty speeches and radio messages, and emails for more campaign funds.

Maurois began his portrait of Disraeli as a flamboyant almost clownish egotist. But Disraeli lived a full political life and ended deservingly as one of Britain's most revered, respected and most distinguished Statesmen. One wonders what will be Obama's legacy. So far as seen from this ex-Obama supporter, he is not doing so well. Can he make a comeback? I don't think so. His handlers apparently did not recognize that a coward's political capital is perishable. And as far as I can see, Mr. Obama's has gone completely rank.[Is Hillary still in the house? (Please forgive me?) ]

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Maybe Obama should stick to writing books? Ten Stars.


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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)

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