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American Narcissus (cont.), Bob Feller, 1918-2010, & more

From the Scrapbook

Dec 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 15 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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American Narcissus (cont.)

American Narcissus (cont.), Bob Feller, 1918-2010, & more

Image Credit: Gary Locke

A few weeks ago Jonathan V. Last catalogued at length the splendid narcissism of Barack Obama. Many readers sent in their own favorite moments of the president’s mirror-gazing and Obama did his part by adding fresh examples.

For instance, last week Obama took time for an event in Northern Vir-ginia where he read to a class of second graders. The book he chose? Of Thee I Sing, by Barack Obama. The week before, Obama began a statement honoring Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with the following: “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize—an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.” He then graciously allowed that Liu was “far more deserving of this award than I was.” No kidding.

But while Obama will downplay his own magnificence every once in a blue moon, he gets testy when others do so. In late November, Obama held a public meeting with Hamid Karzai. The Afghan president thanked him, saying that Obama had “set the tone right.” Obama responded, “That was my goal. Every once in a while, I do things right.” The president’s unscripted moments are often uncomfortable. At a ceremony conferring the Medal of Honor on Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta in November, the president quipped, “Now, I’m going to go off-script here for a second and just say I really like this guy.” Two honors for the price of one!

One reader flagged a passage from Ryan Lizza’s 2004 Atlantic profile of then-state senator Obama. Toward the end of the piece, Lizza describes watching the candidate doodle while making a series of fundraising calls:

I couldn’t help noticing, when we sat down to talk in the dilapidated storefront that houses his Springfield campaign headquarters, that the blue-pen drawing he’d doodled on his newspaper during fundraising calls was a portrait of himself.

Other readers pointed to a 2004 interview with Beliefnet.com, where Obama described the concept of sin as “Being out of alignment with my values,” and to Obama’s creation, following his November 2008 victory, of the “Office of the President Elect”—just in case anyone forgot. Many readers were fond of the moment during the presidential campaign when Obama finally tossed Jeremiah Wright under the bus. After sitting through years of Wright’s racist, hateful, anti-American sermons, what finally prompted Obama to cut ties with the reverend was Wright’s description of Obama as a garden-variety politician. At the event where he turned on Wright, Obama explained,

I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t—more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people.

And finally: “That’s—that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a—it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.”

But for sheer hilarity, it will be difficult to top the following exchange between Obama and Indian businessman Bhupendra Kansagra, at a roundtable meeting during the president’s recent trip to Mumbai. The president tried and failed to guess where Kansagra was going with his remarks:

Mr. Kansagra: Thank you. Welcome, Mr. President, to India. As a fellow Kenyan, I’m very proud to see that you have made—

The President: Made something of myself? [Laughter.]

Mr. Kansagra: —India the focus of your drive for exports out of the U.S. To that effect, the 30 aircraft order, which is the second of such orders we have placed with Boeing, will enhance SpiceJet’s penetration into the Indian low-cost travel, low-cost transportation market, which really is the focus for SpiceJet.

Bob Feller, 1918-2010

Hot Stove League action picked up this past week as the Boston nine pulled ahead of their Bronx rivals with the acquisition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. In the senior circuit, the Philadelphia club signed the game’s top southpaw hurler in Cliff Lee—just as one of the greatest right-handers ever to throw a baseball passed away at the age of 92. 

Bob Feller made his big league debut in 1936 with the Cleveland Indians, for whom he won 266 games (losing 162) over an 18-year career, while striking out 2,581 and finishing with a lifetime ERA of 3.25. He was nicknamed “Rapid Robert” for his fastball which, in combination with his 12-to-6 curveball, made him perhaps the most feared pitcher of his generation—a legendary generation whose hitters included the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, and Feller’s own nemesis, Yankees’ right-fielder Tommy Henrich. 

And for all Feller accomplished—he was an eight-time all-star who led the Tribe to a World Series victory in 1948 and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility—he might have put up even better numbers, were it not for the war. But then, the same might be said of all of that era’s great stars. 

As David G. Dalin wrote in our November 1 issue, Hank Greenberg enlisted at the age of 30, when he was officially exempt from military duty, to fight the Nazis. “My country comes first,” said Greenberg. Feller, who joined the Navy just after Pearl Harbor, felt the same. “I’ve never once thought about all the prime years that I missed,” Feller said later. “I’m as proud of serving as anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

We admire as much as anyone today’s professional athletes, young men whose athletic skill and daring cannot but entertain and amaze us, but in the end their image is not well served by the rhetorical excess, often their own, of referring to their place of well-paid work—the gridiron, diamond, court, or rink—as the -“trenches.” Greenberg and Feller knew the difference. So did Ted Williams, who flew combat missions as a Marine pilot; same with Braves lefthander Warren Spahn, who saw action at the Battle of the Bulge.

In all, there were some 500 major league ballplayers who served in World War II, and all but two returned. One was Harry O’Neill of the Philadelphia A’s, who was killed at Iwo Jima; the other was Elmer -Gedeon, an outfielder with the Washington Senators, the precursor of our current hometown nine. A three-sport star at the University of Michigan, Gedeon once apparently slid across an ice-covered pond to save his cousin’s life when the youngster fell through a hole—an event that on reflection could have inspired a plot point in one of our favorite holiday classics.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey rescues from the icy depths his brother Harry, who later becomes the pilot who saves a troop transport ship, and—who knows?—maybe wins a war in the bargain. In real life, it’s Captain Gedeon who became the pilot, one who died flying a B-26 over France in 1944, and whose efforts, along with those of the rest of the 500, and hundreds of thousands of other American servicemen and women, really did help win a war. 

This week, America lost one of the last of those 500, a right-handed pitcher, Chief Petty Officer Bob Feller, U.S. Navy (ret.).

A Royal Snub?

First the Clintons, and now the Windsors? President Obama was famously not invited to the grandiose New York wedding of Chelsea Clinton. Now London’s Daily Mail is reporting that the Obamas similarly aren’t invited to Prince William’s ceremony.

President Obama and his wife Michelle will not be invited to Prince William’s wedding next year. Because Prince William is not yet heir to the throne, his wedding to Kate Middleton is not classed as a “state occasion”​—and the couple feel under no pressure to fill the 2,000-strong guest list with heads of state, the Mail understands.

They are more eager to ask ordinary citizens and charity workers than foreign dignitaries and VIPs to what will be the first royal “people’s wedding,” courtiers suggested.

A handful of heads of state are likely to be invited in line with previous royal weddings, possibly including France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni.

The Mail continues by noting that First Lady Nancy Reagan attended the royal wedding in 1981 between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

The Scrapbook can’t help but wonder if the royals’ snub isn’t a result of Obama’s less than sterling interactions with the queen and her ministers. At the first meeting of the two in 2009, the president’s gift to Her Royal Highness was an iPod with some of Obama’s speeches already loaded. At least now, there will be no chance of a similar faux pas over a wedding gift.

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"Moderation, very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats, is so dead in the Republican Party and on the right .  .  .  ” (E.J. Dionne, the Washington Post, December 16).

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