In 2008, Michelle Obama said her husband believed that Americans were “going to have to change our traditions, our history.” Who knew she meant it literally?
Word broke this week that the Obama administration amended White House website biographies of most of the 20th century’s presidents to include information touting President Obama’s supposed accomplishments. The additions are contained in a “Do you know?” section at the end of each bio entry. And do you know? It is turning out to be another major public-relations disaster.
It was bad enough when Democrats sought to make Ronald Reagan an unwitting co-conspirator in promoting Mr. Obama’s proposed tax increases. Now every president from Calvin Coolidge on has been drafted into the effort to hype Mr. Obama. Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, as Mr. Obama signed Obamacare. Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, as Mr. Obama “continues to protect seniors and ensure Social Security will be there for future generations.” Trying to associate “Silent Cal” Coolidge’s first presidential radio address in 1924 with the verbose Mr. Obama’s nonstop tweeting is particularly awkward, but apparently every chief executive in the last 90 years was simply paving the way for the current White House occupant.
The biographical trespassing was typical of the Obama administration’s self-aggrandizing style, and it lent itself to instant parody. There was a spontaneous outpouring of mockery on various social-media outlets. The viral meme #ObamaInHistory quickly established itself, and tweets and artwork appeared associating Mr. Obama with everything from the first Thanksgiving to the famous Elvis/Nixon Oval Office photo. “In 1803, Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase for $233 million in today’s dollars,” @CuffyMeh tweeted, “which Obama spent while you read this.” Even more on point, “30,000 Americans died on the Oregon Trail,” @EthanMyers007 observed, “due to lack of health insurance.” And @JohnSantorelli noted that “Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492 and Obama was there to apologize and bow to the natives.”
White House flacks pouted that they were not actually changing history, just adding to it, but cyberspace is a faultless judge of official pretension. Others observed that this act of presidential kidnapping reflected the general contempt the Obama administration has for history. Facts are only important inasmuch as they support the official view of reality. Official data such as unemployment numbers and gross-domestic-product figures are refigured after the fact to shape perceptions. This is nothing if not consistent given that Mr. Obama himself is a man of questioned origins, missing documents, secret records and composite girlfriends.
The ceaseless propagandizing is disgraceful. Citizens expect the history-themed pages of the White House website to be like the White House itself, reflecting a shared national heritage and off-limits from politics. Visitors on the White House tour don’t expect to find the historic rooms of the executive mansion festooned with Obamanalia. They would cringe at seeing the famous portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Peter Alexander Healy paired with another painting of Mr. Obama gazing thoughtfully towards the horizon. As hard as it is for members of the administration to accept, not everything is made that much better by adding Mr. Obama to it.