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November 15, 2008

(Newsweek’s) Obama’s Lincoln

obama-lincoln Newsweek.jpg

A Lincolnesque leader is confident enough to be humble—to not feel the need to bluster or dominate, but to be sufficiently sure of one’s own judgment and self-worth to really listen and not be threatened by contrary advice. — “Obama’s Lincoln” by Evan Thomas/Richard Wolffe (Newsweek)

God speed to the administration-in-waiting, not just for its confidence but for the corresponding encouragement of legendary comparisons. Here’s the image Obama bore with Newsweek this week, based on the president-elect’s deep identification with Lincoln as a model and inspiration.

After fighting Obama’s deification and glorification throughout the campaign, it seems there is little to temper that allusion now. Even the rough road ahead, in fact, is serving as Herculean backdrop.

Not to sound cynical, but this image really concerns me (as does the new TIME BHO/FDR cover which I’ll post soon). Beyond morphing “44″ with “16,” the gig hasn’t even started yet and “O’s” already been minted. (At the same time, the coloring also plays up that campaign meme identifying Obama with the creator. … Recall Obama-Rays.jpg.)

Hand wringing aside, however, do you know where I find the illustration most clever? The Newsweek cover story emphasizes how Obama, also mirroring Lincoln, desires to populate his administration with the strongest personalities he can find. Regardless how strong the character and ideological brew, the assumption is that Obama can temper it, mold it, and create a powerful balance out of it.

Whether the illustrators were conscious of it or not (and it’s hard to imagine they weren’t), what we have here is Obama as yin and yang.

(illustration: Stephen Bliss /Bernstein and Andriulli for Newsweek. Nov 15, 2008)

  • lytom

    Not to sound down, but why do we have media enablers and all those “analysts and planners” working very hard in portraying images to public…in order to influence them?
    It was done before the Aggression against Iraq begun and during primaries,…and it keeps happening.
    Can’t the masses think on their own?

  • JayDenver

    The use of the “O” is going to be very interesting. It works numerically, alphabetically, geometrically, and symbolically. Graphic and linguistic artists should have a field day. To quote Annie Savoy: O my.

  • EvilPoet

    UGH. You lost me at “In God We Trust”. I really hate that phrase.

  • yesterdaygone

    find a penny, pick it up, all 8 years you’ll have good luck.

  • kat

    It’s amazing at the difference between the emotional “hit” from the comparison to Lincoln using words in the Newsweek quote to the visual comparison in the graphic. The visual has so much more emotional impact. Yet, the images reflect somewhat irresponsible journalistic values, I believe.
    The deification of Obama bothers me alot. In this particular picture “God” placed so close to Obama’s head is objectionable. At some point, after the glorification, will come the fall and the demonization. Boring…… (Or, hopefully not, the martyr) Are the spin meisters lazy and don’t want to come up with something better? Are they pandering to the lowest common demoninator?
    I think the coloring of the graphic reflects a division between black and white, emphasizing the “black” in the picture. I’m tired of the black/white theme. I wonder how old the folks are who insist on emphasizing that theme. In the younger generation, there is much more unity than division along race/ethnic lines.

  • T.

    I’ve seen some of your previous posts and sInce the “black” stuff seems to be bother you so much, this one’s for you. And this too, especially.

  • T.

    Here’s more. This stuff actually means something to a ton of folks.

  • T.

    And here are some of the folks it means a lot to.

  • Kit (Keep It Trill)

    If I wasn’t so in love with Ben Franklin, I’d want Barack’s pic on the $100 bill – but not until the end of his tour as President and only if he saves this nation from the Great Depression abyss we’re falling in.

  • Pants Elk

    Someone commented “”God” placed so close to Obama’s head is objectionable. ”
    Huh? How could it be placed otherwise on this coin? On the other side? There is NO significance to the placement of the word God – that’s where it is on the coin! – so finding it objectionable is “interpretation” at its shallowest.
    Take it for what it is: a nice graphic showing the man in a dignified way. After so much satirically bitter renderings of Bush (well-deserved) it will come as a shock to accept images of politicians that are sincerely reverential. No, he hasn’t done anything to deserve it yet (getting elected is more to the US’s credit than his – something he may agree with), but for the moment, enjoy the change of mood without too much wrist-to-forehead agonizing.

  • kat

    I think your response is interesting. I guess I didn’t make my point very well.
    Here’s my background—I’m the mother of three ethnically mixed kids. I have to check a box on a million forms every year describing my children. They don’t fit any of the boxes. A lot of their friends don’t either. I think they are the future face of America.
    I am proud of how my kids and their friends see things. They all get along and think of each other simply as friends, classmates, teammates, etc. They don’t describe their teammates or friends based on race or ethnic origin—it’s “the guy in the blue shirt” or “#21 is a great running back on my team.”
    I could be wrong, but the impression I get is that, to a great extent, white people tend to see things in white and black—they don’t get it that the face of the US is changing. I see the media emphasizing division between races and ethncity; like you have to be either/or. In fact, more and more people don’t fit that mold.
    I’m not trying to take away from Obama being black. I am trying to make a point that he’s also like my kids. I think we both can “claim” him.

  • kat

    Pants Elk-
    My concern about the deification of Obama is not about whether he deserves it; of course Obama is an incredible person and his election is the best thing to happen in a long, long, long time. I am hoping it ushers in all kinds of changes in the United States and in the US’s relationship with other countries.
    My concern is about what happens when there is the least little rough patch. I live in the South where some people will be quick to knock him, to overreact, and not give him a fair chance. Some will be especially mean spirited about images like this one or anything related to him being a savior. Thank God, it’s not like that all over.
    I guess I’m worried that if the media builds him up so high now, they might also take him down too low at some point. And I don’t want that to happen. Look at what McCain and Palin dished out. I don’t want any more stuff like that.
    Hopefully, my concern just reflects my experiences from living in a certain (racist) geographic area and isn’t representative of the national media and the country as a whole.

  • vcInCA

    Kat & T,
    Interesting discussion. I’d like to offer another comment, as a mixed race kid-then-adult. Kat, definitely one recognizes their friends by name more than by race, as your kids seem to. But also, as you are identified by others, you start to categorize and label the ppl around you–for example, since i was ~10, i’ve been asked, at least once a month ‘where are you from?’ and no amount of offering US cities i grew up in or was born in or currently live in satisfies this question–questions keep coming, and eventually some sort of ‘why don’t you look white (or black, perhaps)’ surfaces (e.g. the q wasn’t about location as much as race/ethnicity).
    i believe that having to deal with these sorts of questions across a lifespan can impact how people see & define themselves (and, keeping w/ the theme of this webpage, how they are then framed by others both through words & visuals–for example, the media seems to make much of his basketball passion, clearly considered a ‘black’ sport, while i have no clue what bush did for exercise [tho perhaps he didn't]): in some ways it illustrates the folk idea of what a person that doesn’t quite ‘look’ white is allowed to belong to–for example, if you’re half black, half white, its ok to call yourself black–this is an inclusive group (you don’t have to be 100% black to claim membership). but its NOT ok to just call yourself white–this is far more exclusive, and to me, it seems that this is only OK if your features really pass as ‘white.’
    Within this, i’m not so sure that most ‘white’ people ‘claim him’ in an ethnic sense-i think that they identify more with his upbringing, his education, his other experiences. So yes, we can see something in Obama that is more, or abstracted, from blackness, but also, most of us ALSO see him as an ethnicity. its a rare person who is in no way influenced by their experiences of inhabiting a body of a particular color. t’s link to the number of black senators in US history (5) is very telling-while the face of america may be changing, our leaders/rulers aren’t, or at least are moving much more slowly in this direction. so yes, he does capture more of what america actually is (mixed ethnicity, not growing up rich, etc.), but this ethnic representation is also way overdue, if the gov’t is supposed to represent not just the ideas, but the physical embodiment of the populous..

  • psychohistorian

    Replace the “In God we trust” with the original motto of the US which is “E Pluribus Unum” and it would look much better, IMO

  • Pants Elk

    Kat, of course he’ll get knocked down – but let’s hope it’s only metaphorically. He’s a tough guy – the scrawniness is misleading – and he’ll be only too aware of the honeymoon effect, so I suspect he can weather a few knocks.
    FWIW – I’m a Brit, living in the far east. For the first time in my life I wanted to vote – and I couldn’t! His importance can’t be overstated in terms of world history. WE all know this. The massive wave of global goodwill toward the US (WELL DONE!!!!!) and Obama is exactly what we all needed. It’s almost like making up for Kennedy’s assassination, a nation waking up after a very troubled sleep. It’s not surprising that there’s a tendency to deify. I just know he’s probably one of the very smartest men in the world right now, and there’s nothing in his media treatment that will come as a surprise to him
    I always thought the main difference between the two candidates was that McCain thought he was owed the job, and Obama *wanted* it.
    Anyway, I like the coin image and its subtle yin-yang thing.

  • raggedrobin

    I think the yin-yang reference was probably fortuitous.
    Have a look at the Obama image along with the Lincoln version the illustrators seem to have used as a model – a photograph of a collectors’ “proof” coin with a polished background (found through wikipedia).
    Of course we may want to read something into the choice of that model, or the differences between the photograph and the illustration. But while I would say the Obama image is, over all, more evocative of a yin-yang symbol than the photograph, some of the illustrators’ choices push against that reading, and the ones that support it can mostly be explained by aesthetic considerations and differences in the subject.

  • Michael

    May I just go back to the beginning? The Newsweek article said:
    A Lincolnesque leader is confident enough to be humble—to not feel the need to bluster or dominate, but to be sufficiently sure of one’s own judgment and self-worth to really listen and not be threatened by contrary advice.
    Listening is a tremendous achievement in itself, and every evidence is that Obama listens intently and well. We can see that in the way he listens to interviewers; but the best sign is that he responds appropriately and thoughtfully. If that suggests a connection with Lincoln, then it also suggests that, like Lincoln, he will be able to respond appropriately and thoughtfully to what is going on. That also means that he will not be predictable, and that’s OK, because we can’t predict what situations he will face in the first place, let alone read what he will do about them. Of course he has already taken the measure of some situations, such as Guantanamo, and he has made his considered judgment clear about that. It is clear that he has some principles, and that he will stand by them. But principles in themselves only get you so far; you have to listen carefully to know whether it is this principle,or that one, which you need for one occasion or another. It has been a long time since we had a sense of such responsiveness at the top of American government.
    So maybe the only thing we need to read into that penny image is: he listens, like that other guy listened.

  • gmoke

    The identification with Lincoln is apt, the Nation coming full circle on the issue of Emancipation, but disturbing. Lincoln was assassinated.
    Obama is being set up not as God but as Christ (and Anti-Christ), as a sacrificial victim. I hope my fears are completely unrealized but he must know how personally dangerous his political life is. Barack and Michelle Obama are very courageous people.
    If his campaign organization can morph into a governing organization with the grassroots as the base of power, then the cult of personality that of necessity is building around him will be modified and the citizens’ movement his election started will be able to proceed as a democratic conversation rather than a stump speech or, worse yet, a recitation of orders.

  • acm

    ragged robin’s posting of the Lincoln version kind of makes the discussion about the “meaning” of the two-tone aspect moot. however, rather than seeing a yin-yang, I was reminded of the red/blue Obama poster that has taken on iconic status…

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