The administration is downplaying the revelation that the State Department blew $70,000 in taxpayer cash buying copies of President Obama’s books. As first reported in The Washington Times, the purchase was meant to “engage key audiences in discussions of foreign policy.” It’s another uncomfortable reminder of the degree to which those who surround Mr. Obama feel it necessary to bathe him in adulation.
More than any president of recent or even distant memory Mr. Obama enjoyed a rock-star persona. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Stein wrote after attending an Obama rally in February 2008. “People are crying, rending their garments.” In 2009, Newsweek editor Evan Thomas declared, “In a way Obama is standing above the country, above the world. He’s sort of God.”
Mr. Obama’s sense of personal esteem came through in many of his speeches, such as the classic statement in June 2008: “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Mr. Obama was the first president-elect to require a special seal for his non-office. He thought it was perfectly reasonable to present Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II with an Ipod pre-loaded with audio of his inaugural address and 2004 speech before the Democratic National Convention - just in case she hadn’t downloaded them herself yet. Others have noticed Mr. Obama’s odd use of personal pronouns. Statistical analysis shows that he may not use the first person singular more often than some of his predecessors, but the way he does so clearly shows he considers himself a singular First Person.
Like many people with healthy egos, Mr. Obama does not suffer fools gladly - fools being anyone who doesn’t nod vigorously when he speaks. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, described Mr. Obama’s short temper when being forced to deal with Congress during debt ceiling negotiations last July. “It’s almost as if someone cannot have another opinion that is different from his,” he said. “He becomes visibly agitated. … He does not like to be challenged on policy grounds.” He is the president who blamed Americans for being soft and told people facing hard times to “eat your peas.”
Mr. Obama does have a self-congratulatory rival. Late last year a 6-by-9-foot, 800-pound bronze plaque honoring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reinstalled in the Ronald Reagan Building after an almost decade-long absence. This tribute was installed in the lobby of the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1998 and features an excerpt from a speech by Mrs. Clinton about “expanding the circle of human dignity.” Below it, a statement from then-USAID administrator J. Brian Atwood reads: “May all who pass through these portals recognize the invaluable contribution to worldwide development made by the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton.” It is one thing to make such a grotesquely sycophantic statement, it is quite another to have those words cast in bronze. The plaque was taken down during the George W. Bush administration and now is returned at Mrs. Clinton’s urging.
The story of the Obama book buys faintly echoed a scandal involving former House Speaker Jim Wright, Texas Democrat, who encouraged supporters and labor unions to make bulk purchases of his book, “Reflections of a Public Man.” Revelations of the purchases helped drive Mr. Wright from office in 1989. There is no legal impropriety in the State Department spending tens of thousands of dollars to bring Mr. Obama’s books to the world’s readers, it’s just in very poor taste.