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Obama versus Disraeli, a comparison

By       Message Herbert Calhoun     Permalink
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Andre Mourois' biography of "Disraeli" called "Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age," is certainly political biography in a literary class unto itself. However, the more recent book, "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. Mourois' is about a single dominating personality: the only Jewish Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, who served 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.

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, Barack Obama. It too, arguably was about a political season when, in the aftermath of eight years of Republican mismanagement of the economy, leading to a world-class economic melt-down, and thus began a decisive and precipitous decline in the U.S. standard of living and in U.S. international prestige, a loss in prestige and living standards that may not end until the U.S. has become a second rate power if not a super-sized Third World country. Economic pundits are predicting that it's just a matter of time before China will call in all its economic IOUs and replaced the U.S. as the last standing 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 Mouris' book and what we know so far about Obama from the John Heilemann and Mark Halperin book, a tentative comparison can now be made.

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Disraeli versus Obama

Beyond being called upon in equally troubled times, Benjamin Disraeli and Barack Obama have some uncommon similarities but also some important and rather stark differences. On the similar side, 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 a first rate intellect and as a writer of note.

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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 peers. Both were also plucked from the tree before they had fully ripened.

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

As far as differences go, Disraeli used his speeches to roast the opposition and as a bludgeon to force the hands of his opponents, often embarrassing them publicly. They feared his wicked tongue as much as they feared that of any politician of the day.

Obama, on the other hand, seems content to have his minions out on the front lines taking the political hits, heat and fire of his opponents, while he sits back in a "cool pose" in the Oval Office. No one within the opposition is known to fear Mr. Obama. Many think he is aloof; others think he is "in over his head." The Republicans are tickled pink that Obama is a dismal negotiator, hardly knowing 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, embarrassingly conciliatory behavior as a "going in strategy," quickly assuming Muhammad Ali's "rope-a-dope" position whenever the going gets rough, and then tries to avoid conflict and confrontations at every turn and at all cost, even at the cost of repeatedly jettisoning his own 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 tucked. But even then he gives a valedictory speech as if his base is too dumb to know that the Republicans had just given him a thrashing and "cleaned his clock politically."

Take the Obama "Beer Summit," for instance, where he invited the Boston cop who had arrested Obama's close friend, who being being unable to find his house key after returning from a trip, broke into his own house and opened the door from the inside. Skip Gates was then promptly arrested even though he was an internationally re-known Harvard Professor and had ample identification to prove that he was indeed the owner of the house.

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Initially Mr. Obama called the Boston police stupid for the way they had turned what should have been a trivial case into an unnecessarily inflamed racial and political hot potato. Most Americans agreed.

But then Mr. Obama retracted this statement, and called a Beer Summit to soothe the ruffled feathers of the cops. Only the howls of his base seemed to bring him out of his Oval Office foxhole to account for his changed behavior. But even then Mr. Obama only came out to make a clarifying speech, one that ignored the callousness of the police treatment altogether. His revised reading of the situation left his base baffled, and his position as an assertive leader greatly diminished and weakened. The harshest assessment of Mr. Obama's quick reversal into retreat was that he was obviously a political coward.

Disraeli took great abuse because of his ethnicity and lack of strong Christian beliefs, but despite this, he 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 the respect his positions deserved, came around.

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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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