Indeed, given the hand-wringing over how Obama's successor is all about entertainment and theatrics, it was somewhere between ironic and absurd to watch the outgoing president hold a campaign rally for his "farewell address."
And yet, we've become so inured to this kind of self-serving pomp and circumstance that no one seems to care. From what I can tell, no liberal commentators minded at all, and most conservative reviewers went straight to the substance -- or lack thereof -- of Obama's remarks.
I'll get to that. But it's worth pointing out the gaudy grotesquerie of the spectacle, because it highlights not only how low we have sunk, but the depths to which we may yet plunge given how Obama helped further transform the presidency into a totem in the culture wars.
The first presidential farewell address, and the standard for all to follow, was given by
With a bullpen of writers like that, it's no wonder that Washington's farewell ranks among the great works of literary statecraft, but the most remarkable thing about it was that it was given at all. To voluntarily relinquish power -- power Washington never wanted in the first place -- for the benefit of democracy was one of the most radical acts of political humility in history.
During the Revolutionary War,
George was stunned: "If he does that," the king replied, "he will be the greatest man in the world."
Few presidents dared to invite comparisons to Washington until the populist egotist
Of course, the era of radio and television necessitated -- or created the perception of necessity -- that presidents address the people directly. Whether that amounted to progress is for others to decide. But until Obama, it never occurred to a president to deliver a televised address from anywhere but the Oval Office.
Obama, who has said he'd love to run for a third term if he weren't barred from doing so (thanks to FDR flouting the Washingtonian tradition of serving only two terms, forcing
The whole speech seemed written to be the final chapter of the "Collected Speeches of
No wonder the substance of Obama's farewell was a high-flown rehash of his greatest hits. He spoke again of
That is not the spirit of democracy at all; it's the spirit of the "tribalism" and "nationalism" he's come to disparage. But that has always been the spirit of Obamaism. When people agree with him, that's democracy working. When democracy rejects his counsel, that's the bitter Bible-clingers rejecting the better angel of his nature.