Obama's personality cult lets no photo op go to waste
By John Kass
December 10, 2013
President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt take a selfie at the memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)
There are many ways to remember President Barack Obama's appearance at South Africa's memorial for Nelson Mandela.
Some may remember Obama as Mandela's spiritual son, our president riding on his own soaring rhetoric at that stadium, wrapping himself in Mandela's mantle, dreaming of the father of the new South Africa.
And others will seize on Obama shaking hands with the executioner of Cuba, our president bowing to Raul Castro just as he once bowed to the lords of the Chicago Democratic Machine before beginning his climb.
But those images — Obama riding on his magic rhetorical carpet, reaching for dreams of Mandela, or his clasping of the right hand of Fidel Castro's demonic brother — are about politics.
But there's another image from the memorial that defines Obama. It has nothing to do with ideology.
A news photographer captured the president sitting with the prime ministers of Great Britain and Denmark. He has a cellphone in his hand. The three of them are grinning.
First lady Michelle Obama sits off to the side, somber, dignified, as the world remembers Mandela. Yet next to her like some goofy adolescent who hasn't yet been taught how to behave properly at a memorial service — her husband — is snapping a memorial to himself.
That's what he's being called now, and it blew up on the Twitterverse. It's not the most compelling photojournalism in history. But it is clear, and as pointed as a pin.
Obama and Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt extend their arms, hands on the cellphone, to take the self-portrait. British PM David Cameron leans in. They're as bubbly as school kids ordering a happy meal.
Why would a president take a selfie at a memorial for Mandela? Because it wasn't about Mandela.
It was about Barack.
And isn't it always about Barack?
Earlier, Obama sauntered through the crowd, shaking hands, waving, welcoming the love bath they gave him. He wasn't mourning as much as he was campaigning for adoration, a man determined to receive his due.
And then came the presidential selfie.
It fits into a pattern, of almost uncontrollable presidential selfieism.
A few days ago, when Mandela passed away at 95, Obama's media managers tweeted a photograph. You'd think he'd tweet a photograph of Mandela. But it wasn't of Mandela.
It was of Obama in Mandela's former prison cell, the president having gone to the prison because he couldn't get that photo op he wanted with the ailing South African during Obama's $100 million African vacation.
Obama as Mandela.
And then there was Obama as Rosa Parks.
To commemorate Parks, who 58 years ago this month defied racists who wanted black people to sit in the back of the bus, Obama released another tweet.
Not of Rosa Parks. But of Obama, sitting on the bus by himself, Obama Rosa.
"In a single moment 58 years ago today, Rosa Parks helped change this country," said the presidential tweet.
Yet there was Obama on the bus alone. It's all about Barack.
His social media managers should be sent to Guantanamo for feeding this electronic cult of personality.
There are no Obama selfies from his earlier life in Chicago, the pre-messianic Obama, the man who would later promise to hold back the oceans and heal the planet with a wave of his lips.
I'd have loved a selfie of Obama and his real estate fairy, Tony Rezko, as they stood on the lawn in front of Obama's dream house in the Kenwood neighborhood. That was the home that Rezko helped him get, in a deal that the president confessed was a "boneheaded" move.
Just think of what he might have tweeted at the time, there on the lawn with Tony, wearing khaki shorts, polo shirts and Sox gear:
"The Tony Rezko I know realized I really wanted this house. And he was right!"
And what about tweeted pix of Obama voting "present" all those times in the Illinois Senate, or one of Obama on bended knee before then-Senate President Emil Jones, asking to be made a U.S. senator.
Or selfies with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich or former Mayor Rich Daley or Boss Mike Madigan.
Ah, such tweets, such tweets. They'd be worth the price. Sadly, the Twitterverse back then was nothing like the one today.
Besides, Twitter deals in only 140 characters, and Obama's speech at the Mandela memorial was a tad longer.
It dripped with peace, as Obama told the world that Mandela's death should prompt self-reflection. He said he often asks himself: "How well have I applied his (Mandela's) lessons in my own life?"
"We too, must act on behalf of peace. ... The questions we face today — how to promote equality and justice, to uphold freedom and human rights, to end conflict and sectarian war — do not have easy answers. … Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done."
The man who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize without accomplishing anything except demonstrating competence in raw politics and rhetoric forgot a few things.
He forgot those killer drones he sends down from the skies. And he forgot the fact that he would have bumbled us into another war in Syria had not the American people stopped him.
But it's not all talk with the president. There's that picture from the stadium, and he's grinning.