Obama: The President as Professor


Rand Richards Cooper nails it:

From the moment he appeared in the national spotlight, Obama seemed less presidential than professorial. To me he suggested that familiar figure, the Coolest Professor on Campus—articulate and witty; friendly but a little bit detached, with a self-regard nicely tempered by irony; a superb performer in class who might be hard to get hold of in office hours. It’s an attractive character type—but fundamentally an outsider, an observer and commenter, in love with ambiguity and prone to sardonic views and comments. A writer, in other words.

How does the Cool Professor become president in the first place? One answer is the triumph of mass media over the political machine; one thing Obama and Trump have in common is that both reached over the heads of their parties to voters themselves via a media-delivered appeal: Obama with his soaring oratory, and Trump with his TV and social-media ubiquity. This end-run around traditional political structures makes it likely that we’ll continue to see Presidents with unconventional skillsets. In the space of half a century we have moved from a President like LBJ, a crude bumpkin in his public image but a monster powerbroker behind the scenes, to Presidents whose rise is based largely on their media appeal.

Check out the entire piece at dotCommonweal.  It is a reflection on Michiko Kakutani’s New York Times article about Obama’s reading and writing habits.   Cooper wonders if reading books makes one a better POTUS.  One more taste:

Unsurprisingly, as a book person, I’m already missing Obama. After all, how often can a critic hope to take literary recommendations from the White House? The obvious fact is that those of us who find life impossible to imagine without books know we are losing a soulmate in the White House—in exchange for someone whose ghost writer insists he has never read a book cover to cover. And in the end, I have to believe in the power of books to inform and enlighten power; to improve a president in his capacity not as president, but as human being. Is this merely my own obvious professional preference? Some years back I was on a committee tasked with coming up with a questionnaire for my twenty-fifth college reunion. We were brainstorming on a whole range of things involving professions, lifestyles, hobbies, and priorities, and I suggested including the question, “How many books have you read in the last year?” Another guy on the panel, who had spent his career in finance, bristled and turned to me. “Why don’t we ask, ‘How many business deals have you closed in the last year?’” he said. Sputtering a bit, I attempted to explain what I took to be the special function of books, especially to what was, after all, an institution of higher learning, not a business school.

In retrospect that exchange between the two of us—“How many books have you read?” brusquely rebuked by “How many deals have you closed?”—seems a harbinger of the particular deal that will be sealed in Washington DC on Friday, when the poet-president steps off the stage, and the plutocrat-president steps onto it. I can’t help but be deeply glum about it, and anxious. Another chapter closes in our nation’s history, but I’d rather not turn the page, for fear of what happens next.