President Obama came in with big promises. But he turned out to be a small man.
Fans of "The Simpsons" might remember Episode 144, in which the writers created two wonderful neologisms. The first was "embiggen," such as in the Springfield town motto — "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."
Now, "embiggen" is a perfectly "cromulent" word (neologism no. 2, meaning "acceptable"), but it doesn't work at all for Mr. Obama and his first term. In fact, one needs a word that means exactly the opposite to describe the most partisan, petty and divisive president America has ever seen.
Yet no such word exists, so we'll have to make one up — how about "besmallify"? Used in a sentence: "From his very first day in office, Barack Obama has done nothing but besmallify the presidency."
He didn't intend to, of course, or, at least, that's what he told us. Remember the soaring rhetoric of the 2008 campaign, the promises of a post-partisan presidency, an America united through the brilliant beneficence of the first half-black, half-white president? Millions voted for him based on those promises alone — the rancor and ruckus that was Washington by then drove them nuts as they asked the age-old question: Can't we all just get along?
And that former community organizer from Chicago promised us all he'd take us there, the Land of Happy Harmony, if we'd just vote for him. But once elected, he brought Washington to a new low with his vicious Chicago politics, his blame-everyone-but-himself victim's mentality, and, really, his own small-minded and angrily egocentric view of the world.
On Monday, as he is publicly inaugurated into a second term, he will be praised up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, and he'll likely deliver a speech full of that 2008 soaring rhetoric, seeking to "embiggen" all of us small men. But Americans now know only too well that he is nothing like he said he was, and know that his promises were all lies.
Has America ever been more divided? White vs. black, man vs. woman, gay vs. straight, wealthy vs. middle class, religious vs. nonreligious — everywhere, this president has sought to divide, to conquer. He never reaches to unite Americans, especially when there's a crisis (his Chicagoland godfather Rahm Emanuel taught him well when he instructed, "Never let a good crisis go to waste.")
Six months into office, in July 2009, the president had a chance to unite — or at least deflect and defer. A black Harvard University professor was arrested for breaking into his own home after being locked out. The arresting officer was, gasp, white. Asked at a press conference about the kerfuffle, the president, without knowing the facts of the case, said the local policeman "acted stupidly." Not, "Uh, you know, I'm kinda' busy trying to fix the economy and I don't know all the facts, so let me just say cooler heads should prevail and we should wait until we know the full story" — just the police "acted stupidly."
He did it again when a young white (albeit Hispanic) man, George Zimmerman, killed a young black man, Trayvon Martin, in what Mr. Zimmerman claimed was self-defense. The president certainly could have said: "People, people, let's slow this all down. No one knows what happened that dark night except those two men. A court will decide the case. But we cannot let this one incident set us back on our road to greater unity."
He didn't say that. Instead, he said, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon." Now, stop a moment — flip it.
Black man kills white man, and white president says, "If I had a son, he would look like that white man." Can you imagine the outcry? Can you imagine if George W. Bush had said that?! But no one parsed the president's word for even a moment — the press has facilitated Mr. Obama throughout, seeking to cover up his grand failures and "embiggen" his smallness.
Throughout the debate over health care reform, the president castigated Republicans as men and women who care not a whit about the average middle-class family. Forget that they love their spouses and children just as much as Democrats. Those horrible Republicans, he said, really just want to see anyone but the rich die without proper health care.
In the run-up to the mid-term elections in 2010, the president urged Hispanics to "punish" their "enemies." As for people who don't think like him, he said simply, "Those aren't the kinds of folks who represent our core American values." Read: They aren't American, like you and me, because they don't think like us. Don't embrace our differences, hate them — and "punish" them at the polls.
The 2012 campaign was the most disgusting display of this divisive president. "You didn't build that," he said to anyone who built a company, opened a restaurant, worked hard to get ahead. "Make them pay their fair share," he said about Americans who pay 85 percent of the taxes.
The smallness has flowed right into Term 2. In a petty press conference just last week, the president claimed Republicans are holding the economy "ransom," that they plan on "crashing the American economy." He called them "absolutists" and charged they are "consumed with partisan brinkmanship." With the vicious gun debate raging, he said Republicans are holding "a gun at the head of the American people."
And it won't get better. This is what is in store for the next four years. Mr. Obama has been unmasked as a petty, partisan, small-minded political hack. Sadly, he has besmallified the presidency, and that, in a word, is simply not cromulent.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.