Paul Rahe: Obama’s gestures, part 2

Professor Paul Rahe follows up on his post “Obama’s gestures.” Professor Rahe writes:

Just under three weeks ago, I wrote a Power Line post drawing attention to a photograph released by the White House, showing President Obama nonchalantly leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk, the soles of his shoes clearly visible while speaking on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In that post, I noted that some in the Israeli press interpreted the release of the photograph as an expression of contempt intended for Arab consumption, inspired by the hurling of a shoe at President Bush in Baghdad some months back. I listed a number of occasions on which Barack Obama demonstrated his mastery of the insulting gesture,

The White House has released a series of photographs in which, as the Drudge Report puts it, Obama directed “the evil eye” at various foreign leaders who visited him. Included on the list were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

I take this, therefore, as an occasion for repeating what I wrote on that earlier occasion: “If we are to comprehend what is going on, we must pay close attention not only to what Obama says but to what he conveys in other ways. His tone is nearly always moderate but what he hints at and what he intimates by way of body language often convey the opposite. Witness his warm embrace of Hugo Chavez. Behind the thin veneer of politeness, there is, I suspect, something ugly lurking. In the first of the autobiographies that he claims to have written, Barack Obama frequently speaks of himself as being in the grips of rage. We would do well to take him at his word.”

To this, let me add the obvious: President Obama communicated in a similar fashion his contempt for those in Iran who long for democracy by quickly expressing his confidence in the Islamic Republic’s leadership in the wake of the massive demonstrations against the ostentatious ballot-box stuffing that took place in that country’s recent presidential election. It was only when John McCain’s eloquent denunciation of the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan evoked a strong public response within the United States that, in a hastily organized press conference, President Obama deigned to criticize Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cronies.

As others have noted on this site, our president has not been at all reluctant to align himself with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro in denouncing those in Honduras who have mounted resistance to the unconstitutional attempt of President Mel Zalaya to stage a referendum aimed at eliminating the constitutional provision preventing this Chavez protégé from being re-elected for an indefinite number of terms.

President Obama does not have to announce whose side he is on. He can convey by gestures that he is inclined to help America’s enemies and to harm our friends, and he has done so repeatedly with consummate skill. For a considerable time, our fellow citizens may remain oblivious to what is going on. Abroad, however, where the politically alert are closely attentive to the attitudes of America’s presidents, people already know.

Professor Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. He is the author, most recently, of Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect, published this past April 16, the 150th anniversary of Tocqueville’s death.


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