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  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Comparing Obama to other presidents — and to mermaids

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2013

mermaidAfter watching an Animal Planet program about mermaids the other night, I realized that the sea creatures and President Barack Obama have some things in common. Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, considering that the Weekly World News, a “news source” at least as reliable as World Net Daily, assures me that Obama has met with mermaids. Less surprising is that the article tells us that the mermaids are being “kept at an undisclosed aquarium.” Perhaps in Cuba?

And yes, I know the show was fiction, even if many people have apparently been fooled by the “documentary” style and the lengths the network went through to trick viewers. The fact that folks were duped isn’t a big surprise, though one might hope they would check things out before buying into the latest version of “Alien Autopsy.” I am a bit disappointed to find that Animal Planet is apparently now as much about animals as the History Channel is about history and the Arts & Entertainment network is about the arts.

In part, though, people believe in mermaids (check out some of the claims and a bad poem about mermaids and sonar in the comments section here), for some of the same reasons they believed–and in some cases, continue to believe–that Barack Obama is liberal, anti-war, anti-business, Muslim, a gun-grabber, Kenyan-born, a supporter of economic regulation, deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, a socialist, or the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In fact, because both were relatively unknown and perhaps unknowable, mermaids and Obama became defined by how others want to see them. (We often elect “outsiders” for that reason.) But just for fun, here are some other comparisons:

  • Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was translated into dozens of languages and led to an animated movie; Obama’s Dreams from My Father was translated into dozens of languages and led to an unanimated presidency.
  • Mermaids are famous for melodious singing that mesmerized sailors; Obama is famous for melodious speeches that mesmerized Democratic voters.
  • Mermaids hang out with fish; Obama also has been accused of having some fishy compatriots.
  • In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be seeking souls; Obama brought soul to the White House.
  • Mermaids can be found all over the world; Obama also has made appearances all over the globe.
  • Mermaids never appear on television without the help of CGI; Obama rarely appears without the aid of a teleprompter.
  • And perhaps most significantly, mermaids are thought to be half human, half fish; Obama seems to be half Democrat, half Republican.

In fact, Obama is pretty much like most other presidents, and that’s the problem. He’s certainly no liberal; like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is a politically practical neo-conservative who relies on a combination of charm and corporate money for his power. Like FDRHarry Truman and Bush, he’ll freely kill civilians abroad to look politically strong while reducing American military casualties (for example, more Americans have been killed by guns in this country just since the Newtown massacre than were killed in the entire Iraq War). Like Bush and Roosevelt, Obama will overlook civil liberties to lock up potential “enemies.” Like Nixon and Bush, he is secretive. Also like Nixon and Bush, Obama is willing to let the government be intrusive, if not abusive.

I’ve noted previously the similarities between Obama and Ronald Reagan, and have become increasingly troubled by some of the current president’s similarities to Richard Nixon. (I agree with Bob Dole’s recent statement that neither Reagan nor Nixon could be elected as Republicans, though I think either might have a shot as a modern-day Democrat. After all, both Reagan and Nixon were more liberal in many respects than Obama.)

Obama is not particularly brave, nor especially effective in accomplishing his goals. He has accomplished some good things while doing some bad ones. He seems to be more reflective than Bush, but who isn’t? The one thing that liberals and conservatives might agree on in regard to Obama is that he has been … a disappointment.

Obama’s new support for a federal shield law and his nomination of James B. Comey as FBI director might seem to be encouraging notes in a presidency that has otherwise been marked by its obstruction and intimidation of the press and a general lack of once-promised transparency. But it’s worth noting that Obama previously helped kill the shield law (which probably would prove largely meaningless, and may actually make things worse for journalists, anyway) and the drone warrior’s latest “transparency” promise lasted all of about a week. And, of course, Comey may have had the gumption to bust Martha Stewart and WorldCom execs, but he also is another demonstration of how the president is continuing the work of George W. Bush, even if Comey proved to be a thorn in Bush’s side.

Obama’s attorney general apologized for the administration’s treatment of the press, but I wonder why he felt the need to offer the apology in an “off-the-record” meeting. (I’m also troubled by the fact that three of the five editors who attended the meeting promptly violated the terms to which they had apparently agreed; they should have done what most media organizations did and boycotted the meeting.)

So while it is true that some of Obama’s recent words sound good, we’ve heard false promises in the past. Until I see more evidence, I’m not putting a lot of faith in either Obama or mermaids.

Sunday follow-up: Slate offers some more perspective on the Animal Planet’s mermaid tales, and five things the channel could better be focusing in regard to the world’s suffering oceans. Related to#4 of the list, today I bought a tie covered with pictures of a dozen kinds of sharks. Maybe they ate the mermaids.

15 Responses to “Comparing Obama to other presidents — and to mermaids”

  1. melfamy said

    You put the quandary in a nutshell. Obama gave the Impression that he was different from Bush, but the current President is continuing to steer the country rightward, just as every President since Reagan has done.
    Another fine tradition being continued by the current POTUS is the accretion of powers to the executive branch. I am unsure of why Congress isn’t more jealous of their powers, granted as they are by the Constitution. I can only surmise that we have elected a bunch of slackers to represent us, and they are, like our kids, only too glad to let someone else do the work, work that might cut into their fund-raising time. “Right, Pres. here’s the money, here’s the army, here’s the authorization. Just try to finish up before the primaries, dude!”

  2. Reuel said

    I have more faith in the Mermaids being real than Barry being “transparent” or creditable.

  3. James McPherson said

    I don’t think we’ll see either one. Besides, if mermaids look like the ones on the show, my fantasies about mermaids would be as thoroughly destroyed as my former fantasies about open government were.

  4. Reuel said

    So true. Ever see the documents that they release under the “Freedom of Information Act”. Most pages are redacted.

  5. James McPherson said

    Yeah, I filed an FOIA request with the FBI several years ago. It took about three years (academic requests apparently have a lower priority than journalistic ones, and there was a change of presidential administrations from Clinton to Bush in the middle) and the intervention of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s office to get the stuff. When I finally got the 300+ pages, much of it was so blacked out you could only read 8-12 words).

  6. Reuel said

    I guess I am starting to understand some of the distrust some had of President Bush as I see the current occupier doing a lot of the same and even worst all in the name of the “Patriot Act”. IRS targeting, Verizon wireless tracking, administration using separate e-mail accounts to conduct business of the government. It seems as I have said in the past, That the 2 parties are more interested in self preservation than addressing original intent of their job discipline. I have never read 1984, but it seems to be a repeated term these days. Maybe it is time I read it.

  7. melfamy said

    The funny thing about 1984, Reuel, is that both the right and the left use the book to buttress their viewpoint. I can’t wait to hear what you think about Orwell’s work.

  8. James McPherson said

    I still tend to agree with Neil Postman that we’ve developed a world more like that warned of by Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World” than by Orwell, though there are plenty of interesting parallels with each. You can see Postman’s comparison here: http://www.serendipity.li/jsmill/post_1.html

  9. Reuel said

    FYI, for some that were dising President Bush. It seems he is more popular than Barry these days. What’s that saying about Barry. Didn’t put a question mark here on purpose.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/163022/former-president-george-bush-image-ratings-improve.aspx

  10. James McPherson said

    Reuel, this is part of why I regularly point out that it’s way too early to judge either Bush or Obama from a historical perspective. You probably saw these lines in the article: “The recovery in Bush’s image is not unexpected, given that Americans generally view former presidents positively. Gallup’s favorable ratings for Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all exceeded 60% when last measured.” Thanks.

  11. SBJ, I hate to burst your bubble, but I’m half mermaid. I suppose I have a little in common with Obama since he’s a half breed. The biggest difference would be that I can swim and I’m not a liberal. Yes, James, he’s a liberal. So was Bush. Trust me; I know when I smell something fishy…

  12. James McPherson said

    Fishy, for sure. But if you think Obama are liberals, then your definition of a conservative would probably scare hell out of me. Come to think of it, there are plenty of conservatives who do.

  13. What was the Animal Planet Mermaid show referred to? A “mockumentary” I believe, but watched by 32 million people. There’s a socio-political statement for you.

  14. […] of us has been thrilled with all of Obama’s actions, and I’ve regularly criticized him elsewhere. But the energy, enthusiasm and patriotism in Washington during the 2009 inauguration and the days […]

  15. […] … the missing plane. Frankly, I think the plane was escorted to the bottom of the ocean by mermaids. But don’t tell CNN I said so; Jake Tapper will want to interview me about it on the […]

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