Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Obama's Bust


In responding to my recent BrooWaha article on Obama’s incapacity for high office (Don’t Mess with Mr In-Between, 26 July) one contributor made the following observation about Mitt Romney’s supposed London Olympic gaff during his recent foreign tour:

…Mr. Romney goes to London on his first foreign visit as a presidential candidate and he insults our greatest ally. He went on a soft-ball tour and screwed it up. He showed he's not even qualified to be a foreign service officer never mind the president of the U.S.

This is a subject I intend to return to, a Michigan Yankee in the Court of Queen Elizabeth, but first I really want to focus on the subject of political gaffs, not Romney’s supposed faux pas, but that of the Man in the White House, who, when it comes to this sort of thing, for once makes his opponent look like a rank amateur.

I read recently that Americans still love Sir Winston Churchill just as much as we do in the land of his birth. The Morgan Museum and Library in New York is presently running an exhibition entitled Churchill: the Power of Words. It’s caused quite a stir in Midtown, with more than 30,000 people visiting in the first six weeks, some fifty percent in excess of the curators’ expectations.

America’s fascination with Britain’s greatest ever wartime leader, the only man ever to be accorded honorary American citizenship while still alive, is really not that surprising. After all, quite apart from the citizenship, he was half-American by ancestry. Jennie Jerome, his mother, was born in Brooklyn. His story is an American story, if one step removed.

There is one man who does not admire Churchill. There is one man skilled in undiplomatic skills. There is one man who, in his conceit and arrogance, was prepared to offer a gratuitous insult to America’s most consistent ally. That man is Obama, so far as I am concerned the most un-American American ever to occupy the White House.

No sooner did he take command in 2009 than he ordered Jacob Epstein’s bust of Churchill removed from the Oval Office. Previously loaned by the British government to President George W. Bush, officials offered to let the new President hang on to it for another four years. Thanks but no thanks, was the response. At a time when British soldiers were fighting and dying alongside their American comrades in Afghanistan it was an act of breathtaking insensitivity, a clear and direct snub.

Reacting in anger to Mitt Romney’s recent announcement that he intends to restore the exiled Sir Winston if elected in November, officials said that the bust was still in place, that it had never been removed, that it was all an urban myth. Dan Peffer, White House Communications Director, attacked Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor, for daring to suggest that Sir Winston had gone AWOL.

“This is 100 per cent false” he declared, “The bust is still in the White House.” Unfortunately for him Krauthammer was 100 per cent correct; the bust is not in the White House but in the residence of Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador, as embassy officials confirmed. Peffer at once had to eat crow, issuing a grovelling apology on the White House blog. The whole thing has become something of a pantomime along the 'oh, no, it isn’t, oh, yes, it is' lines, an American, sorry, Obama farce at its most farcical.

We are becoming used to Obama’s clumsiness and numbing insensitivity. He’s on record as referring to “Polish death camps” during the Second World War, causing huge offence to the Poles. Meeting David Cameron, the British Prime Minister earlier this year he promised stop pressing for negotiations between London and Buenos Aires on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, only to go back on his word and join with Argentina on calls for a ‘negotiated settlement.’ The feelings of the people who actually live in these islands is clearly a matter of no importance.

Enough of Obama. Let me get back to the Churchill show. Among the exhibits are his notes for a speech he made in the House of Commons on September 11, 1940. The Blitz had just begun, German bombers pounding the city night after night in the months to come. “Adolf Hitler”, Churchill said, “hopes by killing a large number of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorise the people of this mighty imperial city…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation”.

Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular have not failed to notice the significance of the date and the significance of message about the futility of terrorism; the message about the strength, the spirit and the determination of a great city and a great nation. Most understand Churchill, even if their President does not.

15 comments:

  1. Sir Winston was an exceptional individual with a long career of courage, adventure, service, success, and failure behind him by the time he became PM. His story is a reminder of just how rich in experience a person of energy, imagination, and ambition can make a life.

    Barry Soetoro, our very own Manchurian Man of Mystery, represents a very different model. He sprang cellophane-wrapped and brand spanking new straight out of DNC Central Casting with all the perfect superficial qualifications for instant political celebrity at the very moment the Democratic Machine needed a pristine poster boy to play the Anti-GWB.

    But is there anything genuine about Mr. Perfection? Don't bother asking.

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    1. I think I already know the answer. :-)

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  2. such a well written piece. I can see your disapproval of Obama clearly here. But is Churchill that great leader by comparison?

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    1. James, I certainly think so. I suppose it depends on how one measures greatness. Churchill became Prime Minister at one of the most dangerous points in my country's history. He never tried to hide the tremendous difficulties Britain faced but, with quiet assurance, he saw the country through to victory. Honesty, integrity, courage and steadiness in the face of danger, these are the qualities that marked him out from so many others.

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    2. Somehow I had read that Churchill had been dishonest on a number of occasions for which some interpreted it as white lies etc. I think that comment was relating to the fact of his late prime minister terms?

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    3. Gosh, James, it would be a rare politician who was always completely honest. Churchill's standards were a good deal higher than most, certainly by comparison with today's shabby shower. :-)

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  3. I understand the "bust" is symbolic but as the election moves closer, I feel there are more important issues at hand and it's restoration would not necessarily make me like Romney more. I feel absolutely no connection with Mitt Romney. Nada. Zip. I feel as though if he and I were in a room he would address someone else and not take notice as to who I was and/or where I come from. Of course, this isn't saying much about his politics, his stances or what he has promised this country but somehow I know, I am not the American voter his presidential campaign is aimed at.

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    1. Shaharoh, you are absolutely right: set against other issues this is of no importance at all. It was really written as a piece of counterpoint, me trading small gaff for bigger gaff. In the end it's all politics. If Romney does not appeal to you as a potential leader that's all well and good. Personally speaking, though, I think his campaign is pitched at all Americans, regardless of background or ethnicity. It would be a foolish politician indeed who limited their appeal to a narrow constituency. That would be a gaff of overwhelming proportions.

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  4. Did you ever see the movie Young Winston? It was made in the early 1970s, and was rather well done. The actor who played WSC - Simon Ward - died a week or so ago. Well worth seeing if you can find it.

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    1. Yes, I saw that, Calvin, once on late night television. It was indeed well worth seeing.

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  5. A read of: "The Many Not the Few: The Stolen History of the Battle of Britain", tends to make you [me] realise that a lot of the published accounts may well be incorrect in many ways.
    Churchill may well be [historically] a great leader, but the book leaves you with the impression that he {Churchill] may have just been another David Cameron, albeit in another time !

    John

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    1. John, you might enjoy Max Hasting's Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord, 1940-45, a warts and all portrait. So far as Cameron is concerned I'm about to post an article that may help to change your mind. :-)

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  6. I agree with you about Cameron, but the present crop of Mr/Mrs/Ms Bland members of parliament tend to be of a "oneness", all things to all people. But at the same time, nothing to everyone.
    They seem to have been educated in the same School of Bland.
    Still, they don't really run the country anyway.

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