President and Mrs. Obama filled their speeches to the International Olympic Committee with references to themselves, their lives, their experiences, all because of their self-evident significance to the progress of humanity. “Both Obamas,” writes George Will, gave heartfelt speeches about … themselves.”
This is only a slight exaggeration in the case of President Obama’s speech, though entirely on the mark with respect to Mrs. Obama’s. Mrs. Obama also earned extra credit with her Olympic memory of sitting on her father’s lap to watch Carl Lewis compete when she would have been 20 years old. While Mrs. Obama’s speech edged President Obama’s in narcissism, it was a helluva close race. (The texts of both speeches are posted here.)
And President Obama won it if one takes into account the dangerously vacuous political sentiments that are also reflections of his narcissism. “We stand at a moment in history when the fate of each nation is inextricably linked to the fate of all nations — a time of common challenges that require common effort,” Obama asserted, and elaborated on the world-historic nature of this sentiment. “I ran for President because I believed deeply that at this defining moment, the United States of America has a responsibility to help in that effort, to forge new partnerships with the nations and the peoples of the world.”
Who can resist such stuff? It has a kind of evergreen appeal that sustains the popularity of John Lennon’s “Imagine” among pimply adolescents. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde on the death of Nell in Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop, one must have a heart of stone to hear it spoken in earnest without laughing.
I thought that the IOC’s decisive rejection of Chicago for the 2016 Olympics was a small price to pay to provide President Obama with what he might otherwise call (Lord, forgive me) “a teachable moment.” Surely President Obama might learn from it without having done great harm to the national security of the United States something about the limits of narcissism. It is a lesson he badly needs to learn, and fast.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill