Obama, Romney: Like Fathers, Unlike Sons
Atop his debate notes, Mitt Romney writes “Father.” Before he became president, Barack Obama wrote a best-seller “Dreams from My Father.”
One week A.D. (After Debate, After Debacle, take your choice), it’s tempting to see the cataclysm in primal terms, the patrimony of the two men—-one escaping the shadow of a famous father, the other haunted by a father he barely knew.
For those who normally disdain pop psychologizing, including me, this walk on eggshells can be justified only by a wrecked political landscape that has so many wandering about like the last survivor in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” mumbling “Madness, madness.”
Romney tells Wolf Blitzer his father’s name is meant to inspire him in political combat, but another interpretation is possible: a reminder that in 1968 George Romney had the presidency in his grasp but failed to keep it. Does the son’s ruthless self-reinvention owe as much to the memory of a father’s failure as his accomplishments?
Obama’s self-immolation recalls years of doubt, even from admirers, over his distaste for confrontation. As far back as 2007, Maureen Dowd was pushing him, “I know you want to run a high-minded campaign, but do you worry you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little.” He assured her he would when it counted.
Yet, in the 2009 debt-limit struggle with Congress, he didn’t. Now again with everything on the line he has blinked.
Why? Does Barack Obama instinctively fear, above all else, appearing to be the angry black man his absent father was? Can he ever overcome the cool self-image that protects him from that?