Even before Barack Obama was inaugurated, the question of what to do with the bust of Winston Churchill on display in the Oval Office arose. The valuable bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein had been loaned by the British government to George W. Bush in mid-2001 -- before Sept. 11, contrary to recent reports -- and had gazed with weary wisdom over the Oval Office ever since. Not that Winnie was alone. Busts of Lincoln and Eisenhower rounded out the trio of wartime leaders President Bush had chosen to watch over him at work even when the nation was at peace.
The Lincoln bust remains in the Obama Oval Office. I haven't received definitive word on the fate of the Eisenhower bust, but I strongly suspect it's gone. So, definitely, is the Churchill bust, its unceremonial crating and return to the British Embassy generating a diplomatic flap and many mainly British news stories wondering, whither the "special relationship"?
There is some pathos to this reflexive plaint given that what makes this relationship special of late is the fact that the CIA considers the likeliest source of a terrorist atrocity against the United States to be British citizens traveling on the visa-waiver program -- British citizens of Pakistani descent, that is. Either way, the relationship is necessarily different when some potentially lethal percentage of the British citizenry is no longer what you could call on our side. Or should I say "our" side to denote the postmodern shambles of conceiving of sides, "ours" or "theirs"?
I don't mean to go abstruse on anyone, but there is a muddle here onto which the fate of the Churchill bronze shines a welcome if cauterizing beam. Indeed, packing up and returning Churchill to the British reveals more than the current state of U.S. ties with Britain. When President Obama declined the British offer to extend its loan, when President Obama indicated he wanted the bust out of the Oval Office, indeed, out of the White House, he sent a much more significant message. Namely, he demonstrated how completely our world has turned.
The London Telegraph attempted an explanation: "Churchill has less happy connotations for Mr. Obama than those American politicians who celebrate his wartime leadership. It was during Churchill's second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President's grandfather."
In other words, such family lore is supposed to render the British titan who roused the Free World against Nazi Germany and warned the Free World against the Communist U.S.S.R. as popular with the new president as Guantanamo Bay. For the record, though, the Mau Mau story is a historic impossibility, at least according to the known timeline of events. As noted by the blogger Papa Whiskey via the Jawa Report, Obama's grandfather was jailed and tortured between 1949 and 1951. That's the story according to his widow, Obama's "Granny Sarah." Of course, Granny Sarah is also a primary source of the claim that Obama was born in Kenya, so who really knows? Obama himself has offered conflicting accounts in both cases. In his memoir "Dreams of My Father," Obama describes his grandfather's detention as lasting "over six months" before he was found innocent (no mention of torture). Whatever the case, Churchill didn't become prime minister for the second time until the end of 1951. The Ma!
u Mau Rebellion didn't begin until the end of 1952, one year after Obama's grandfather's release.
It seems that what we are seeing in the return of the Churchill bust is less a personal vendetta against Churchill the man and more an open breach in the Western continuum out of which a new orientation toward the Third World will become increasingly apparent. Having achieved a Washington-like apotheosis in the American imagination, Churchill serves not only as the preeminent symbol of resolve, courage and faith against the enemies of Western civilization. He serves as a symbol of Western civilization, period. One of President Obama's first acts as president was to consign that symbol to a box and send it packing.
Somewhat complicating our understanding of the incident is the fact that even as George W. Bush may have retained the knickknacks of that same civilization, the 43rd president did more to break with it maybe than any previous president, certainly more than any previous Republican president. Yes, he ordered the military to war upon attack by Islamic terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, to fight ill-defined "extremism." But Bush was first and always an internationalist, a globalist, with no national calling, for example, to stem the massive illegal Hispanic influx that has transformed large swaths of the United States by replacing their Western, English-speaking heritage with a Third World, Spanish-speaking culture.
In countless ways, President Obama is merely extending and expanding policies already initiated by his predecessor. From securing the border, which neither man has considered a priority, to securing a Palestinian state, which both men have considered a priority, to a shared belief in bailout packages that are nationalizing the economy, a neutered lexicon with which to address Islam, and legalizing millions of illegal aliens, there is in both leaders a transformational impulse, intensified and now recognized as radicalism in Obama's case. Does this Bush-Obama nexus represent the place where what we once called "white guilt" and "black rage" overlap? It's possible.
In the end, Bush kept Churchill in the room with him, perhaps to mollycoddle the Right. From the beginning, Obama did not, perhaps to avoid being mistaken for a "sellout." I refer to the new president's concern as expressed in his first memoir where he wrote about his maneuvering as an undergraduate at Occidental College:
"To avoid being mistaken for such a sellout, I chose my friends carefully: the more politically active black students, the foreign students, the Chicanos, the Marxist professors and structural feminists, and punk rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Frantz Fanon, Euro-centrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet, or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting Bourgeois society's stifling constraints. We weren't indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated."
Maybe he still is. Only now Barack Obama is taking that "alienation" out on the nation. Increasingly, this is how I interpret President Obama's open, aggressive war on capitalism that is designed to wrest control of the economy from the private sector and transfer it to the government. I call that Marxism. Like the symbolic repudiation of Churchill, Obama's Marxist attack on free markets plays to the same factions of the radical left he once set out to ingratiate himself with as a young man.
"When the native hears a speech about Western culture, he pulls out his knife," wrote Frantz Fanon, the seminal theorist of anti-Western Third Worldism Obama mentioned above. When a Marxist, Third World-tilting president of the United States sees a bust of Winston Churchill, he sends it packing. He may have proven once again to the Left that he's no sellout, but that doesn't mean he hasn't just alienated an awful lot of the American people.