Friday, August 07, 2009

Barack Obama and the Irony of "Sizzle" and "Substance"

Obama says Cameron has no substance

For a foreign leader who is trying to build his reputation on being a newer, more diplomatic American President, Barack Obama is off to a rocky start in Britain.

After previously describing British Conservative party leader David Cameron as "a lightweight", reports have surfaced that Obama, in a meeting one year ago, described Cameron as "sizzle" as compared to Gordon Brown's "substance" and Tony Blair's "sizzle and substance".

American foreign policy expert David Rothkopf seems to share Obama's estimation of Cameron.

"I used to think David Cameron was just an empty suit," Rothkopf said. "But it is increasingly clear that the former PR guy… ought to be ditched at the altar both by the British people and by the Obama administration."

The irony, of course, is that Barack Obama built his presidency out of a distinct lack of substance. Commentators such as Froma Harrop and Simon Critchley have described Obama as an "exotic who says nothing" and as a "blank screen", respectively.

"Obama is opaque," Critchley says. "But perhaps this opacity is Obama's political genius. It's precisely the enigmatic, slightly inert, listless character of Obama that seems to generate the desire to identify with him. Indeed, to love him."

Critchley notes that Obama himself, in The Audacity of Hope, acknowledges himself as a "blank screen" onto which other people project their own political values -- as "a mirror that reflects back whatever one wants to see".

Harrop continues to note that Obama's previous political record sheds very little light on his views.

"What Obama really thinks should be done about health care and the terrorist threat remain secrets that his book does not unlock," writes Harrop. "His two years in the Senate certainly haven't revealed any bold policy ideas."

Obama's (presently unconfirmed) assessment of Cameron as lacking substance is rather ironic in the sense that Obama has built his own political career out of a lack of substance -- instead allowing people to read whatever substance they wish to see Obama embody into him.

If Barack Obama truly dislikes David Cameron as much as it may seem, it may only be a case where someone dislikes another merely because they are so much like themselves.

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