The Ironist-in-Chief

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JPod, on Obama's Nancy Reagan line:

... I'm sorry he's getting hammered for it, because it made him seem like a more interesting person. Now, Obama is nothing if not an interesting person. His book Dreams from My Father is a very, very interesting self-portrait -- my friend Andy Ferguson has gone so far as to call it a "small masterpiece," which is higher praise than I would give it (and, moreover, from a source who is far less inclined to lavish praise than I am). But it is the nature of politics that it forces interesting people to turn into less interesting people, because displays of personality can always be taken the wrong way. Obama just learned a lesson about that, and it may force him to continue to keep his guard raised lest too many signs of his ironist's temperament emerge to give the 24-7 news maw something to chew over.

I agree. And Obama's "ironist's temperament" doesn't just make him a more interesting politician than your average baby-kisser: It has the potential to be crucial to his success as President. Mass democracy has a way of creating cults of personality around its most charismatic national politicians - we've seen this with the Kennedy brothers, with Reagan, and even with Sarah Palin - and it's very easy to imagine an Obama Presidency that ends up being captive to the unprecedented hero-worship he generates, and the image that his fans have of him as a transformational President even before he's taken over the Oval Office. I think something like this may have happened to George W. Bush in the aftermath of September 11th: The idea that his might be a world-historical presidency seemed to take over his actual presidency, to its great detriment. And where Obama is concerned, I think we should all hope that his more ironic instincts - his writerly detachment from the absurdities of politics and from his own celebrity - survive his ascension to the highest office in the land, as a useful guard against the hubris to which he'll otherwise be tempted.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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