Alex Massie

Barack Obama and King Canute

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No-one would argue that Barack Obama is without ego. Then again, that's also true of most politicians. Mark Steyn, however, objects that Obama "seems to see himself as Nelson Mandela and the previous regime as the old National Party". This seems a stretch given that the evidence proffered is Obama's quip that

We cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything is going to be okay.

Steyn suggests the offence - or the arrogance - of this was made worse by the fact that Obama was speaking in Strasbourg at the time.

But itsn't it obvious that, on this occasion at least, Obama is being traduced in much the same manner as poor old King Canute has been done in by a wilfull misunderstanding of his actions. When Canute ordered the incoming tide to recede he was not expecting it do actually stop and retreat whence it came, rather he was demonstrating to his courtiers the limitations of Kingly power. Similarly

, any fair reading of Obama's remarks would lead one to appreciate that he was warning his own supporters - at home and abroad - that they should not expect miracles and that the excitement they might feel at winning the election ought to be tempered by an appreciation of political reality. The President is not Superman. In other words, this was a (rare?) moment of modesty, not arrogance on the part of the new President, precisely the opposite of the "reality" Steyn describes.

As I say, Obama doubtless has a healthy conceit of his abilities (then again, if you were President you might too), but this wasn't one of those moments when it was on display. Mind you, the press never handles self-deprecation or, worse, irony very well, does it?

UPDATE: Mr Steyn responds here and, to be fair, makes the good point that the Canute comparison is somewhat undermined by Obama's silly declaration that his nomination marked "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow". That may have been the daftest thing Obama said on the campaign trail, even if I'd ascribe it to a moment of rhetorical exhuberance rather than a proper, like, promise. As I say, no-one doubts Obama has an ego.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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