A classicist take on Obama

Victor Davis Hansen, riffing on Obama’s prop of a classical temple for his big speech, shows how a knowledge of ancient literature and history can help us understand contemporary politics:

Why and how did McCain catch up? Let us count the ways: the disastrous European victory lap of Obama’s; the uninspired professorial pontificating to Rick Warren; the deer-in-the-headlights serial responses to the Georgia crisis; and the McCain ads that were as cleverly effective as they were derided as childish by outraged liberals.

But perhaps the greatest consideration is Obama’s Hellenic hubris, which is different than simple arrogance. Hubris is a sort of fit, a haughtiness steeped in delusions of grandeur and divinity that takes over a weak individual, and soon encourages recklessness and overreaching (atê), all culminating in ruin and divine retribution (nemesis).

Go figure: Obama/Oedipus goes to Berlin. There he speaks in front of a grandiose Victory Column commemorating Prussian arrogance (after begging in vain to have a JFK/Reagan presidential moment at the grander Brandenburg Gate). He reviews American sins, revises the history of the Berlin Airlift, and claims (falsely) he’s the first black high official Germany has dealt with before. Then to hysterical applause from 200,000 Berliners, eager for subsequent free music and beer, he prances home, convinced that this was a success rather than an Apollonian trap.

Meanwhile an Ethel in Tulare turns on the TV and sees thousands of Europeans (who habitually make fun of her country) applaud Obama—and makes the logical assumption that they apparently think he is one of them, rather than one of us.

Next, drunk with pride, Obama thinks that such a losing paradigm (again, really a warning from the gods) apparently was not only successful, but will work again in Denver. So he transfers his speech to an outdoor forum, where tens of thousands of raving fans can watch him apotheosize in front of a faux Doric temple and accept nomination.

Isn’t there one sane person on his staff who can stop this divine madness, a single henchman who can whisper in his ear as puts on his golden crown not Vero possumus (”Yes! We can!”), but as was true of returning heroes during  Roman Triumphs—”Respica te, hominem te memento” (”Watch behind you; remember you’re just a man!”)?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    Hanson’s own hubris, not to mention his incessant jingoism and blind hatred of Obama, are tiresome.

  • Jonathan

    Hanson’s own hubris, not to mention his incessant jingoism and blind hatred of Obama, are tiresome.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Obama really did look magnificent yesterday.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Obama really did look magnificent yesterday.

  • Anon

    To be fair, I think he was trying to bring to attention MLK jr.s march on Washington 45 years ago. But considering all the acceptance of divinization (like Herod) it came across as you say.

    When antichrist comes, will it not be like this?

  • Anon

    To be fair, I think he was trying to bring to attention MLK jr.s march on Washington 45 years ago. But considering all the acceptance of divinization (like Herod) it came across as you say.

    When antichrist comes, will it not be like this?

  • Anon

    Anon @3 – Can you point to substantial evidence that Barack Obama has accepted divinization (like Herod)? Your comments, may I gently say, are kind of … well, just stop scaring me.

  • Anon

    Anon @3 – Can you point to substantial evidence that Barack Obama has accepted divinization (like Herod)? Your comments, may I gently say, are kind of … well, just stop scaring me.

  • Matthew Christians

    I don’t know what these other guys are talking about. I thought Mr. Hansen’s commentary on Barack H. Obama was simply brilliant. Even though my familiarity with classical literature and culture is not insignificant, I find myself absolutely blown away by the apt comparison of Obama’s behavior to Hellenic hubris. My head is still spinning.

  • Matthew Christians

    I don’t know what these other guys are talking about. I thought Mr. Hansen’s commentary on Barack H. Obama was simply brilliant. Even though my familiarity with classical literature and culture is not insignificant, I find myself absolutely blown away by the apt comparison of Obama’s behavior to Hellenic hubris. My head is still spinning.

  • Anon

    Other anon, have you not been paying attention? The campaign graphics and setting symbolism (including in Europe) his not rejecting Chris Matthews and others declaring him to be a divine being, his claiming divine powers and divine historical significance? All of that you have missed? McCain’s commercial was a spoof, the reality is far more intense and scary.

  • Anon

    Other anon, have you not been paying attention? The campaign graphics and setting symbolism (including in Europe) his not rejecting Chris Matthews and others declaring him to be a divine being, his claiming divine powers and divine historical significance? All of that you have missed? McCain’s commercial was a spoof, the reality is far more intense and scary.

  • Anon

    It isn’t just the deification, but the Leninist-Stalinist-Nazi chique in the campaign posters as well.

  • Anon

    It isn’t just the deification, but the Leninist-Stalinist-Nazi chique in the campaign posters as well.

  • CRB

    Jonathan,
    What “hubris” are you talking about? Do you have some
    “specifics”?

  • CRB

    Jonathan,
    What “hubris” are you talking about? Do you have some
    “specifics”?

  • Bass

    Face it: we’re not used to seeing a black man do what Sen. Obama is doing; we don’t mind blacks who entertain us or even teach our children in school, but we don’t want them as chief executive. Any black who thinks he’s good enough to do that must think he’s a god.

  • Bass

    Face it: we’re not used to seeing a black man do what Sen. Obama is doing; we don’t mind blacks who entertain us or even teach our children in school, but we don’t want them as chief executive. Any black who thinks he’s good enough to do that must think he’s a god.

  • CRB

    As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what race any candidate is. The fact is, this man has almost no experience, is radical in his politics and associations and would be a terrible choice for President for those reasons alone.

  • CRB

    As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what race any candidate is. The fact is, this man has almost no experience, is radical in his politics and associations and would be a terrible choice for President for those reasons alone.

  • Bass

    McCain took that argument away from you by linking arms with Sarah Palin. Perhaps she thinks she’s a goddess. McCain certainly wants to be the god of war.

  • Bass

    McCain took that argument away from you by linking arms with Sarah Palin. Perhaps she thinks she’s a goddess. McCain certainly wants to be the god of war.

  • Anon

    Bass, the insinuation that I”m a racist for not supporting Obamessiah is despicable. I was an Alan Keyes delegate on the local level the last time around. Apologize.

    Then you go on to make no sense at all. What has linking arms to do with deification? Where do you get off saying that McCain wants to be Ares? Are you a Michael Moore sock puppet?

  • Anon

    Bass, the insinuation that I”m a racist for not supporting Obamessiah is despicable. I was an Alan Keyes delegate on the local level the last time around. Apologize.

    Then you go on to make no sense at all. What has linking arms to do with deification? Where do you get off saying that McCain wants to be Ares? Are you a Michael Moore sock puppet?

  • Richard

    The WSJ has an interesting article on “Obama as Shaman” here:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121736628530894671.html?mod=opinion_journal_federation

  • Richard

    The WSJ has an interesting article on “Obama as Shaman” here:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121736628530894671.html?mod=opinion_journal_federation

  • Bass

    Why doesn’t the outrage against the “politics of personal destruction” apply to bigoted nonsense like Hanson’s article?

  • Bass

    Why doesn’t the outrage against the “politics of personal destruction” apply to bigoted nonsense like Hanson’s article?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bass (@14), because he’s a Republican attacking a Democrat. Come on, learn the rules here!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bass (@14), because he’s a Republican attacking a Democrat. Come on, learn the rules here!


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