Having met George Washington on a few occasions, both before and after he became president, I know that there can be a big difference between the public man and the private one. Not that George was a jocular, “wild and crazy guy,” as one of your modern comedians might say. But all of those very solemn portraits which have been hung all over the country belie a more complex picture of Mr. Washington.
He was known to be very passionate, but tried not to let his passions show – and so very often came across as a quiet man. He had a fair share of self-confidence, but in a humble sort of way. He was not loud, but did have a temper, which he tried to keep under control. And, here is my main point: President Washington was a perfect embodiment of that old Latin saying, “Let another man praise you and not your own lips.” (A great proverb for Poor Richard’s Almanack, I must say!)
Now compare that to President Obama
Seeing all the fuss that has been made over the portrait of President Obama that had been captured at the funeral of Mr. Nelson Mandela, I find myself wondering whether President Washington might have acted differently.
First, I should mention, however, that the photographer responsible for that portrait later confessed to creating a picture that wasn’t entirely above-board. The fact is, according to an internet news report, all of the people in that picture, including the president’s wife, Mrs. Obama, had been joking a moment earlier. It was mere coincidence that the picture was taken at the split second that Mrs. Obama turned away from the group and assumed a more serious expression. So she had been a party to that moment of presidential whimsy herself.
Secondly, what the photograph and its caption didn’t tell us – and what many who saw the picture and leaped to a false conclusion did not realize – was that Mr. Mandela’s funeral was a far cry from the somber affairs many of us in the western world are accustomed to.
Much like an Irish wake, or a New Orleans funeral (or so I’m told, not yet having experienced it myself in my time travels), the Mandela funeral was a quite lively affair, serving as a joyous celebration of his life, rather than a sad expression of loss. So the actions of the president and his companions were perfectly in keeping with the occasion, with no disrespect intended to the departed leader of South Africa.
Selfies and Kardashians
But I have gotten off on a tangent. What I intended to comment on was the act of making a “selfie,” which Mr. Obama appeared to be engaging in. In one of my previous “blogs,” I have already made my opinion known on this strange custom of “selfies,” particularly the one created by one Ms. Kardashian in her bathroom.
My question is, was it appropriate for the president to be making a selfie? And is it right to hold anyone, the president included, to such high expectations that he is not allowed to express his human side? What would George Washington have done?
I must admit, all of the serious-looking portraits of myself that often hang beside those of George Washington do not really do me justice. I have always enjoyed light-hearted conversations, engaging in witty repartee and amusing banter. (Some of my written parodies are proof enough of my sense of humor). So why do most of the pictures of myself in your world of 2013 portray me so dourly and seriously?
In the same vein, why should President Obama not be accorded the same understanding? He obviously is a man who does have his light moments. There are certainly more pictures of Mr. Obama smiling than there ever were of President Washington! Having a sense of humor is not a detriment when it comes to leading the country – it actually can be quite a beneficial asset! It did help me tremendously in my own career of political leadership and international diplomacy.
So, in conclusion, while I am not a fond advocate of “selfies,” I do believe that the President was not out of line in his decision to participate in some mild mirth, especially since the tenor of the occasion actually was rather jubilant and festive.
Your humble servant,