By Tim Graham ~
GQ Magazine is mostly stuffed with fussy ads for men’s dressy clothing. But when it turns to politics, the love for Obama is intense. Last November, they published an Obama cover story by sportswriter Bill Simmons that oozed that Obama “carries himself like Roger Federer, a merciless competitor who keeps coming and coming, only there’s a serenity about him that disarms just about everyone. He casually compared himself to Aaron Rodgers, and he wasn’t bragging.”
Now GQ editor-in-chief Jim Nelson has penned an even gushier valentine titled “Why Obama Will Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents of All Time: Already missing our soon-to-be-former POTUS.” In a GQ illustration, Obama’s head and modern necktie are photo-shopped into the Lincoln Memorial. Nelson insisted “the truth is coming, and it sounds like this: Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.”
He’s “Mount Rushmore great,” and dares to say he’s easily better than Bill Clinton as the “greatest Democrat since FDR.” That is not going to go over well in Chappaqua. Nelson gushed:
Wait. One of the Greatest? you ask, your thumb emoticon poised to turn up or down on me. The guy haters love to hate with their very best hate game? Like 20-Dollar Bill great? Like Mount Rushmore great?
Yep. (We just won’t build Mount Rushmores anymore.) In so many ways, Obama was better than we imagined, better than the body politic deserved, and far, far better than his enemies will ever concede, but the great thing about being great is that the verdict of enemies doesn’t matter. In fact, and I say this as a Bill Clinton fan, I now feel certain that, in the coming decades, Obama’s star will rise higher than Clinton’s, and he’ll replace Bill in the public mind as the Greatest Democrat since FDR.
This has to do with the nature of Obama’s leadership, which is to play to legacy (and Clinton’s impulse, which is to play to the room). Bill Clinton will long be revered because he’s charismatic, presided over an economic revival, and changed and elevated the view of the Democratic Party. Barack Obama will long be revered because he’s charismatic, presided over an economic revival, and changed and elevated the view of the presidency. He’s simply bigger than Bill.
Nelson loved Obama’s legacy – and surprisingly, the gay leftist doesn’t mention the gay agenda. The legacy, in part, he suggested was the speeches, not the policies, which supposedly spoke constantly to our “better angels.” So he’ll never be remembered for nasty attacks on any Republicans? Fascinating.
More to the point, Obama’s legacy is the sort that gets canonized. Because the first rule of Hall of Fame-dom: The times have to suck for the president not to. Civil wars, World Wars, depressions and recessions. You got to have ’em if you wanna be great. That’s why we rate the Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts over That Fat Guy with the Walrus Mustache. Like Obama, these Great Men were dealt sucky hands, won big, and left the country better off than it was before.
With Obama, each thoughtful step of the way, from his soaring acceptance speech (“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep.”) to his epic speeches on race and religion, his responses to the shootings in Tucson and Newtown, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the opening of Cuba (“Todos somos Americanos!”), and countless other momentous occasions, he knew how to speak to our better angels at a time when it was hard to locate any angels.
It’s a little bizarre that the political system is criticized as “broken,” and Obama has pledged to go around the Congress and impose his agenda no matter what the elected legislature thinks, is cast by Nelson as ….a model unifier?
Lastly, there’s the arc of history, bound to bend downward. As our unity becomes more frayed, more tenuous, and the ability for any politician to get anything done more unlikely, the job of president will become less LBJ tactical and less FDR big-dealer. The job will largely be to preside. To unify where and however we can. In this way, too, Obama pointed the way forward.
It may be hard to imagine now, but in the face of rising chaos, we’ll crave unity all the more, and in future years whoever can speak most convincingly of unity will rise to the top. (It’s also hard to imagine many beating Obama at the game.) This year’s carnival election, with Trump as a kind of debauched circus barker, only makes the distinction clearer. The absurdity and car-crash spectacle of it all have already lent Obama an out-of-time quality, as if he were a creature from another, loftier century. Whatever happens next, I feel this in my bones: We’ll look back at history, hopefully when we’re zooming down the Barack Obama Hyperloop Transport System, and think: That man was rare. And we were damn lucky to have him.
It’s the kind of throbbing tribute that makes you wonder if there’s an Obama centerfold in the middle of the magazine.