Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maybe Obama Rejected The Wrong Churchill

Not long after 9/11, the British government loaned a valuable bronze bust of Winston Churchill to President George W. Bush. It occupied a prominent position in the Oval Office for the rest of his term.

Now President Barack Obama has returned it, unrequested, and provoked puzzlement and conjecture in British circles.

The London Telegraph suggests it may be because Churchill was Prime Minister when Britain suppressed the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya, and reportedly detained and tortured Obama's Kenyan grandfather.

The (UK) Spectator's Alex Massie opines it is a sign of Obama's "maturity", a sign that he doesn't need the inspiration of Winston Churchill looking over his shoulder to be president. He further lambasts "neoconservatives" as "traducing Chamberlain" and living in a "cult of Churchill" in the U.S. which needs taking down and no delay about it. (HT: The Corner)

I think it's likely nothing more than housecleaning (if you want to say that of an artwork worth hundreds of thousands of dollars). Obama likes Lincoln, so Abe it is in the statue corner.

Anyway, this whole argument loses traction in the reality of Early Churchill v. Later Churchill. We conservatives do admire Churchill's clear understanding of Britain's crumbled national security, his accurate identification of the threat that was Hitler and Nazism long before the rest of the government, and his stalwart leadership of his embattled nation before the Americans were stirred to engage the foe directly, and then ever afterward.

We forget however that Churchill's domestic policies were by no means conservative, including strong support for national socialized medicine, unemployment insurance, huge public works programs and old age pensions decades before we came up with the New Deal. For a time, he was a big-L Liberal. I've commented on this elsewhere before.

Contra The Spectator, I would argue that maybe President Obama would find a kindred spirit in the Early Churchill of 1904-1923, rather than the more remembered Later Churchill of 1939-1945 he supposedly rejects when he evicts Winston's image from the White House. Maybe it is Massie guilty of oversimplifying the history of a very long political career in his own country, and not we American provincials, y'know.

Besides, we have our own leadership cult now, and we've successfully exported the American Up-Leg Thrill to many countries already.

Maybe The Spectator would like a bronze bust of Barack Obama for their offices in return ?

BONUS: If President Obama had kept the bust, would he have been accused of trading on a famous relative?


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