Rocco Landesman, Barack Obama’s Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, knows how to suck up to the boss. During a recent speech, Rocco Landesman had fulsome praise for Barack Obama’s impact as a writer as well as a patron of the arts.
“This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.”
Julius Caesar? Some people have interpreted this statement as Rocco Landesman praising Barack Obama for the power of his words, but for the power of the author. Mind, Barack Obama was an obscure State Senator when he wrote Dreams from My Father, an interesting albeit pedestrian autobiography (and we’ll leave aside for now the theories that Bill Ayers actually wrote the words.) The Audacity of Hope is a common political tract, not to be confused with literature even by the most fawning Obama sycophant.
Julius Caesar, on the other hand, was Proconsul and governor of three Roman Provinces, having been for all intents and purposes chief executive of the Roman Republic, when he first started the Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Caesar was engaged in the conquest of an area of Europe occupying modern France, Belgium, Holland, and part of Germany. He would in the course of writing the Commentaries lead an expedition across the Rhine into Germany proper and two cross channel expeditions into Britain, the latter of which was, for most Romans, as remote as the surface of the Moon.
In the course of his conquests, Caesar would kill a million Gallic men, women, and children, enslave a million more, and become worshiped at a god by the million Gauls who were left. He would go on to essentially end the Roman Republic by military conquest, though to be fair the Republic was so rife with graft and corruption that it probably should have been ended. Just before embarking on another plan of conquest in the East that would have rivaled those of Alexander the Great’s, Caesar was assassinated.
With all due respect to Julius Caesar, God help the American Republic if Barack Obama ever got as powerful as he was at the height of his glory.
Mind, American is not Rome. Barack Obama is certainly no Julius Caesar, despite Rocco Landesman fawning words. That is especially true as a writer, though it is partly not Barack Obama’s fault. Dreams from My Father is primarily the musings of a discontented young man who had been abandoned, at one time or another, by both of his parents but who had done nothing special in his life. The Commentaries was an account of a war of conquest, with battles, intrigues, forced marches, and all the drama of war in the ancient world by one of the world’s greatest politicians and soldiers. The two cannot be compared, not in quality of writing, not in subject matter, and especially not in power of the words or authors.
Sources: We Know Art Works, Rocco Landesman, Address to Grantmakers in the Arts, October 21st, 2009
Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama, Three Rivers Press, 2004
Barack Obama Alleged to Have Committed Literary Fraud, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, October 6th, 2009
The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama, Vintage, 2008
The Conquest of Gaul, Caius Julius Caesar, Penguin Classics, 1993