Hey, Barack, Can I Borrow Your Lawnmower?

A pundit once remarked that Jimmy Carter was a nice man who would make a good neighbor but who had made a bad president. He was someone you could count on to lend you a tool but not to run a country.

As President Obama’s opponents hopefully compare his presidency to Carter’s, I find myself wondering what kind of neighbor Barack Obama would be…

I imagine him, I confess, as a bit of a know-it-all. If he saw me mowing my lawn, he might tell me where I can get my mower blade sharpened, for a crisper, cleaner cut on my grass. “You really oughta get that blade done!” he would call out in a friendly but authoritative tone, tilting his head a couple of times for emphasis. If I invited him in for a drink–a beer summit, say–he might start telling me how Belgian beers are better than German ones, and how all beers taste better in the country in which they are made–for both technical and social reasons. I might nod my head in assent, having no real basis for disagreeing. I would mention I had beer in Brussels once.

As my neighbor he would not be president, of course, nor a U.S. senator, nor (as I imagine) even a state legislator. Maybe he makes his living in some vague administrative post with the city government. His politics would be confidently left of liberal–progressive, leaning Marxist. He would have his cool going at all times, but it would be in the service of a grand ideological vision that our modest bourgeois homes could barely contain. “What you don’t understand, Tony,” he would explain, “is that America is a class society that thinks it’s a classless society. We have to redistribute the wealth just to make us the country we think we are!” He would talk about the Founding Fathers as slaveholders, wealthy merchants, or “instrumentalist” lawyers–as men who drafted the Constitution to further their own economic interests. He would mention radical historian Howard Zinn a lot– not the more accomplished Gordon Wood and Jack Rakove, though their writings, with emendations, might have served his points just as well. Sometimes I would politely note that he had attended one of the most elite schools in Hawaii. But for some reason that would just lead Barack to talk about his days as a community organizer.

The actual content of his words, to be frank, would fall a few meters short of brilliance. They would suggest a mind that had worked itself–quite capably, one must grant–upon a rather narrow range of reading and experience. But I would find Barack interesting because he was so evidently sincere and sincerity always makes a man more interesting than he would otherwise be.

“You should be president,” I’d say every so often, not really meaning it.

“I’d be a one-termer for sure,” he’d reply.

But he wouldn’t mean it, either.

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