What a cigarette will tell you about a man *UPDATED*

Are you getting the feeling that Obama, contrary to the hope hype, is a very grim, depressed man?   Since the precise moment of his inauguration, his every pronouncement has been redolent of hopelessness and anger.

My feeling is that, if Obama is going to style himself the second Roosevelt when it comes to American economics, he needs to focus not just on Roosevelt’s economic policies, but also on his style.  After all, the economic policies were a disaster, and almost certainly extended the Great Depression by years.  Rather than getting angered by Roosevelt’s perpetual failures to repair the economy, though, the American people were endlessly forgiving.  Why?  Because the public Roosevelt was perpetually jaunty and optimistic. Even as his policies dragged the economy down, down, down, his personality lifted the American people up.

Just think about one of the most iconic images to emerge from the Roosevelt presidency:

Roosevelt and his cigarette holder

Roosevelt and his cigarette holder

Could anything be more cheerful and energized than that uptilted chin and cheerful grin? The cigarette was an exclamation point to the happiness and energy he radiated.

Compare the ebullience of Roosevelt to the now famous picture of Obama smoking:

Obama and his cigarette

Obama and his cigarette

The two picture are like mirror images of each other. Everything about Obama droops — his eyes, the angle of his head, his shoulders. He looks grim, drab and depressed.

Now, I appreciate that these two photographs reflect milliseconds in time and that within milliseconds after the camera flashed, Roosevelt’s face could have turned down and Obama’s brightened up. But the fact is that those two pictures are of a piece with what we know about those men’s personalities.  In speech after speech, Roosevelt heartened the American people:

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

And then there are Obama’s statements, now that he’s no longer in hope-filled campaign mode and actually has to govern this messing, sprawling, vital country:

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

Wow.  That’s just from one speech (his inaugural), and came about 30 seconds into the speech.  Pardon me while I stick my head in the nearest gas oven.  Nor did it get better afterwards, as he wallowed in a muddle of cliches, wonkish proposals, slightly twisted historical references, and periodic strained attempts at uplift.

Nor have his speeches been better since then.  We’ve had threatening anger (as well as a stupid insistence on the end of business profitability):

There will be time for them [Wall Street Bankers] to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses,” Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. “Now’s not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them.

We’ve had unrelievedly grim economic forecasts:

President Barack Obama said the economy is “a continuing disaster” for families as he signed executive orders to strengthen unions and put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a task force on the middle class.

“The recession is deepening and the urgency of our economic crisis is growing,” Obama said at a White House ceremony, citing Commerce Department figures showing the economy shrank 3.8 percent at an annual pace in the last three months of 2008.

And we’ve had self-abasement and recrimination purportedly on behalf of all Americans:

And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.

And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved.

No wonder the Iranians are crowing about American weakness and passivity.  Obama embodies these failings, and promises to impose them on our nation.

In other words, everything that we see in that picture of Obama and his cigarette, we see in his speeches, predictions, threats and apologies.  He’s got all of Roosevelt’s vices (economic insanity) and none of his virtues (good cheer and optimism).  Americans like optimism, because they are essentially an optimistic people.  It is our national nature, and I do wonder how long it will be before they turn against this man, just as they turned against Carter, the last president to try to drag the American people into his own personal depression.

UPDATEBob Parks has yet another example of Obama’s grim rhetorical style.  Giving people reality checks is one thing.  Creating a sense of crisis to enhance the ability to carry out an agenda is also one thing.  But this unrelenting negativity is pathological and I think it transcends any agenda (although I don’t deny that the agenda is there).

UPDATE II:  I have learned since writing the above post that the picture of Obama was almost certainly photoshopped to add in a cigarette.  I don’t think that changes the substance of my post at all, which is about Obama’s negativity versus Roosevelt’s buoyancy, but it’s important to be accurate about things.

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  • Larry Sheldon

    Add to the cigarette image (which I find depressing even with out the comparison to FDR), the picture (several of them from different events in circulation) of him standing with his hands folded nervously in front of him.

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ Helen Losse

    A bit off subject, but there is an interesting analysis of Obama’s inaugural speech at http://www.wfu.edu/wowf/2009/20090130.llewellyn.html You probably won’t agree with it, but might enjoy reading it.

  • Oldflyer

    I simply do not want to believe what I hear when Obama speaks since the inaugural. I know that he establishing his excuses and trying to set the stage for Bush to take the fall if the economy does not respond. But, some elder statesman needs to grab him by the scruff of the neck and tell him: “the campaign is over. You wanted the job, and you have the job, so do the job. A big part of the job is LEADERSHIP.” The old saying, “lead, follow or get out of the way” has never resonated more. Unfortunately it is too late for him to get out of the way; he is not a follower, nor is he a leader”. To put it bluntly, we are screwed.

    Book you don’t have to go back to FDR, although your point is valid. Obama need only look back as far as Reagan who inherited a great mess and consistently told the American people that we WILL move past this, and we did. He used his optimism to sell policies to break free of the malaise and stagnation. Then compare his style of leadership with Carter’s. Obama has a road map, but apparently cannot read it.

    Unless–as some think, he is diabolical enough to welcome this situation growing into a true crisis that he can use to manipulate the change he wants, and we don’t want. Nah! No American President would do that.

  • Zhombre

    President Bare-ass Hustled Obummer?

  • Charles Martel


    Nah, not a drop of Irish in the man.

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  • expat


    I don’t think Obama likes Americans, much less believes in them. His comment about challenges: “they will be met.” Sounds like he’s gonna send us to bed without our supper.

    New topic: If Mitchell is so experienced, why does Obama talk to him like a Little League manger sending a kid into the batter’s box for the first time?

  • Tiresias

    Hmmm – you may have overlooked something there, Bookworm.

    To say that rather than getting angered by Roosevelt’s endless failure to repair the economy the American people endlessly forgave him ignores one aspect of what FDR did. He transferred mountains of other people’s (or newly minted) money to those who didn’t have it, via the WPA, Social Security, and all the rest of the alphabet soup of make-work nonsense he gave us – the bad effects of many of which we still endure.

    When you pay people, it isn’t surprising that they’ll vote for you. What FDR did, looked at baldly, was successfully buy votes – by the million.

    To most Americans, then as now, the “economy” is a word, an abstract concept that they don’t particularly understand except in its broadest and most simplistic terms.

    But give them (somebody else’s, or paper you’ve printed still warm from the press) money to lean on a shovel all day, thus rendering their personal economy more or less okay – or at least better than it was – and surprise, surprise! – they’ll re-elect you forever.

    He exploited a fundamental weakness of a democratically based system: once people find out they can vote themselves money, they will.

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    You’re right, Helen, I don’t agree with it. But thanks for the link anyways.

  • Zhombre

    O’bummer? Oh Charles, you never know. The British might have employed Irish in Kenya, and after a couple pints, who knows with whom they fraternized.

  • Deana

    Bookworm –

    You state, “Are you getting the feeling that Obama, contrary to the hope hype, is a very grim, depressed man?”

    Actually, I don’t. I don’t think he is depressed at all.

    I think he is doing one of two things:

    1. He realizes that people are actually expecting him to do something that will result in improvements. This is a first for him. Therefore, he has to lower the expectations. He excelled at creating these soaring hopes and dreams during the campaign. Now it’s game time so he has to excel at shaping how people perceive him and what he is (or is not) achieving.

    2. As many others have wondered, he is using rhetoric to create the sense of panic or crisis that will pave the way for him and folks to usher in far-reaching leftists policies.

    But as to your question: he does not look depressed. When I see him on tv, I think he is loving every minute of this.

    I watched him sign the Ledbetter bill the other day and he was handing out his pens with this look on his face as if he just knows that people want anything he has touched.

    I just think he is loving the adulation.

  • Gringo


    Unless–as some think, he is diabolical enough to welcome this situation growing into a true crisis that he can use to manipulate the change he wants, and we don’t want. Nah! No American President would do that.

    My brother-in-law immigrated from Germany as a child a shortly after WW2. Before Obama took office he said that Obama would use a “crisis” to assume more and more power, “just like the Nazis,” he said. Spoken by someone who spend the first 9 years of his life under the Nazis.

    To my way of thinking, Obama is overselling this as a crisis. Yes, we have problems. 1) We need to rein in our overspending. 2) We need to make a better transition to alternate energies and from imported oil.( nuclear and liquefied coal look good, also.) That does NOT mean, like the Democrats believe, that we stop drilling for oil. It does mean that government assistance in regulating and improving the electric grid will be useful, for example. 3) Contrary to what many Democrats believe, the Jihadists won’t go away now that Obama is in office.

    But it sure ain’t like the Depression I heard about from my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Of course, Gringo. But you don’t need to have lived under the Nazis to know this. Yuri Bezmenov told us plenty and that was only a few decades ago in the Cold War.

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  • el gordo

    Not to blow my own horn but I noticed it over a year ago. Back then everybody was going on about his “soaring”, uplifting” rhetoric. I never heard that. I heard the following: “You are so screwed, you little people. You are being ripped off every day. Cheated of your birthright. Your country is a valley of tears. Your history, tragic and full of injustice. Verily, you are not in charge of your lives. You have no hope. But don´t worry, I´m here now.”

    To me, there never was a positive message. Leaving aside those who simply wanted to see a black president – which is at least defendable – Americans voted for Obama for two reasons: self-pity and class-consciousness.

    Besides, don´t forget that in his life Obama rose through a number of institutions without leaving a mark. He is by all accounts very self-contained, aloof, I´d say borderline narcissistic. This is not someone who likes to take responsibility, to lead from the front. This is not someone who sees himself as part of ANY team. Ambition and adaptability do not equal leadership.

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