POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

by David Trumbull

August 14, 2009

For Barack Obama, democracy appears to be a distraction. He really does seem to view himself as a Caesar.
–Kathryn Jean Lopez, August 7, 2009, writing in “The Corner” the National Review’s blog.

The Obama = Dictator Julius Caesar equation has been out there for sometime, going back to before he ascended to the Presidency. It even predates Mr. Obama. Opponents charged that President Lincoln was a tyrant destroying the Constitution to preserve the Union and overthrowing democracy in the name of “The People.” Lincoln’s assassin shouted “Sic, Semper, Tyrannis” (ever thus to tyrants) after firing that fatal shot in Ford’s Theater, a line from a popular play Brutus that celebrated the life of the tyrannicide of the Ides of March.

The Reductio ad Hitlerum logical fallacy in American political discourse is not only silly, it can—as in the case of Booth and Lincoln—be deadly. But when a mainstream publication such as National Review calls President Obama another Gaius Julius Caesar the comparison is likely to stick. It’s funny how these things stick whether they truly apply or not. President George W. Bush had flaws, but lack of intelligence was manifestly not one of them, and it was the left’s obsession with an imagined lack of brain-power than let him out-think them and kept them from ever getting around to attacking his real weaknesses. Likewise, if conservatives stick on a theory of Obama-Caesarism to the exclusion of the real threats of Obamaism, we lose, and along with us the Republic.

Caesar overthrew the Roman Republic by offering, and delivering, to the populace security, justice, and prosperity through his tyrannical rule at a time when the legal institutions of the Republic had been failing for decades to deliver those basic needs. Obama is no Caesar. The people do not support his Grand Idea of a government takeover of every aspect of healthcare. And for all the problems with healthcare it is manifestly not the case that the Republic is irretrievably broken as was Rome in 44 B.C. or Weimar in A.D. 1932—the times simply do not call for a Caesar.

No, Obama’s tragic flaw is that he is committed to the Grand Idea, the holy grail of the left, socialized medicine. Grand Ideas are like conspiracy theories and cheap sweaters: pull at one string and whole thing unravels. That’s why we see the outsized reaction from Obama when participants in the town halls question even the smallest individual provision in the 1,000-page bill. In this Obama is more Cato the Younger than Julius Caesar. Cato insisted on one—his own—particular Grand Idea of the Republic. The reality of the Republic is his day bore little resemblance to his Grand Idea and, compromise being out of the question for him, in the end he lost both along with his life when Caesar’s vision—more grounded in reality and with popular support—prevailed.

When Caesar threatened to cross the Rubicon another misguided opponent, Pompey the Great, responded that he had to but stamp his foot and up would rise an army to defeat Caesar. Later, overwhelmed by Caesar’s forces and facing defeat, one of Pompey’s supporters turned to the “The Great One” and inquired whether it might be time to start stamping. We saw that foot-stamping recently in Obama’s petulant reaction to the protesters at the town halls.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]