The part of the myth that appears to be accurate, however, is that the emperor actually conceived of himself as a great artist. He was especially proud of his singing and lyre-playing abilities. Indeed, he intentionally traveled to Greece so that he could entertain large crowds with his putative talents.
Today we have an equally star-struck chief executive. He too seems more interested in playing to adoring throngs than busying himself with the nasty details of governing. Americans once feared that Ronald Reagan would prove more actor than president, but this honor has fallen to Barack Obama.
By now the tableau is well known. The Islamic world literally erupted in flames and the president of the United States went on a Vaudeville tour. More important to him than addressing an international crisis was rubbing elbows with Hollywood stars and pandering to campaign crowds.
Obama loves the limelight. He enjoys being on stage, thrusting his chin forward in a mock-heroic pose and then wowing his devotees with a mellifluous voice projected in perfectly modulated cadences. He looks presidential; he sounds presidential; he is cheered as if he were presidential.
But it is all an act. Obama does not know how to be presidential. He has the external trappings down pat, yet he cannot do the job he was hired to perform. The evidence of what Republicans have taken to describing as a “lack of leadership” is indisputable.
Take Obama’s unwillingness to meet directly with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Iran is threatening to blow Israel off the map with atomic weapons the world says it should not have, and what does our president do? He takes a pass. Or rather he goes on “The View” to perform for his fans.
The president might also have taken the opportunity to consult with the leaders of Egypt and Libya, but no — the Letterman show took precedence. Indeed, where has Obama not performed? He even found time to go on the radio with the “Pimp with a Limp.”
This predilection is not new. Bob Woodward, in his recent book “The Price of Politics,” makes Obama’s distaste for governing all too clear. Woodward sympathizes with Obama, but time and again our president’s disengagement from the duties of his office breaks through.
Governing is hard, but it is even more difficult if you do not like to associate with elected officials. Negotiating is not easy, especially when you have no skills as a negotiator. Running a competent administration is challenging, but it is even more challenging when you cannot organize your own office.
All of these deficits came into play during the debt-ceiling crisis. Even though Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner argued that the nation was on the brink of another Great Depression, Obama did not have a Plan B when his initial position foundered. Instead, it was necessary for Congress to come to the rescue.
What then was Obama’s last-ditch stab at salvaging the situation? Why, it was to go in television to give a speech explaining that it was the Republicans’ fault. For our president, when things go wrong, it is always someone else’s fault.
And so it was with the Libyan crisis. According to Obama, our ambassador died because of a silly video trailer. This was not a failure of his diplomacy. Clearly, everyone, including foreign leaders, is enchanted with his silver-tongued speeches. The whole world loves him — and therefore us — hence he cannot be the problem.
Fortunately for Obama, the mainstream media are enthralled with his act, so they keep the bad notices away from public view. Still, no matter how inspiring his simulated presidential routines, they are no substitute for the real thing.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.