"It may be a terrible tragedy": Flight MH-17 and the overweening narcissism of Barack Obama


Yesterday, as the wreckage of Malaysian Air Flight MH-17 lay burning in a field in eastern Ukraine, President Obama was attending a fundraiser in Delaware. As many, including my colleague RMJ, have noted. This was not a great moment in the history of the presidency.


From the White House transcript:

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Please have a seat.  It is wonderful to be back in Delaware.

Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.  And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.  Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens onboard.  That is our first priority.  And I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government.  The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why.  And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home.

I want to thank Jeremie for that introduction.  Give Jeremie a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  It is great to be in the state that gave us Joe Biden.  (Applause.)  We’ve got actually some better-looking Bidens with us here today.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got Beau and his wife, Hallie, are here.  Give them a big round of applause.  We love them.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Governor Jack Markell.  (Applause.)  Senator Chris Coons, Congressman John Carney, County Executive Tom Gordon, and the Mayor of Wilmington, Dennis Williams.  (Applause.)  We’ve also got two terrific members of my Cabinet — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is here — (applause) — and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is here.  (Applause.)

Jack Lew’s signature is actually on your money.  (Laughter.) Although it’s kind of illegible.  We teased him when he first became Treasury Secretary that he was going to have to fix his signature a little bit because it looked just like a caterpillar running along the bottom.  (Laughter.)


Just take a moment to consider the jarring juxtaposition. Nearly 300 human beings killed without cause, among them, it is reported, 24 American citizens. And our president is joking about Jack Lew’s signature, presumably a very patriotic signature, on US currency. In fact, it was so lacking in taste that even Piers Morgan noticed it was lacking in taste:mh 17 piers


In addition to the utter inappropriateness of treating an announcement of a tragedy as a segue to a stand-up comedy routine is what he actually said:

And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.

Might be? One would think that anyone confronted with the senseless deaths of several hundred people would not have a whole lot of doubt about whether it was both terrible and a tragedy.

This is not the first time that Obama has offered perfunctory sympathy. On September 11, 2012, our embassy in Benghazi was sacked and our ambassador murdered. Obama didn’t think this important enough to cancel a fundraiser in Las Vegas. In fact, he didn’t let the terrorist attack mar the levity of the occasion. Let’s go to the transcript:

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Can everybody please give Adriana a great round of applause for the wonderful introduction?  (Applause.)

I also want to say it’s good to see your once and next Congresswoman, Dina Titus.  (Applause.)  And it is so good to see all of you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)  I do.  I wanted to begin —

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  So I wanted to begin tonight by just saying a few words about a tough day that we had today.  We lost four Americans last night, who were killed when they were attacked at a diplomatic post in Libya.


He makes some brief platitudes and immediately:

 And that’s what I want to talk to you about here today.  We’ve got work to do overseas; we’ve also got to do some work here at home.  (Applause.)  And we’ve got to do some work right here in the great state of Nevada.  (Applause.)

Now, because Nevada is a battleground state, you are aware that we’ve got an election going on.  (Applause.)  Unless you’ve accidentally stumbled in here looking for a convention of podiatrists — (laughter) — then you’ve been paying some attention to the election.

But wait, there’s more. After the what “may have been” a “terrible tragedy” of “workplace violence” at Fort Hood, Obama made remarks. Naturally, he was on the road collecting cash and dispensing your hard earned money in exchange for votes. Again, the transcript:


[*] OBAMA: Please, everybody, have a seat. Let me first of all just thank Ken and the entire Department of the Interior staff for organizing just an extraordinary conference.

I want to thank my Cabinet members and senior administration officials who participated today. I hear that Dr. Joe Medicine Crow (ph) was around, and so I want to give a shout out to that Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It’s good to see you.


My understanding is is that you had an extremely productive conference. I want to thank all of you for coming and for your efforts, and I want to give you my solemn guarantee that this is not the end of a process, but the beginning of a process and that we are going to follow up.


We are going to follow up. Every single member of my team understands that this is a top priority for us. I want you to know that, as I said this morning, this — this is not something that we just give lip service to. And we are going to keep on working with you to make sure that the first Americans (ph) get the best possible chances in life in a way that’s consistent with your extraordinary traditions and culture and values.

Now, I have to say, though, that beyond that, I had planned to make some broader remarks about the challenges that lay ahead for Native Americans as well as collaboration with our administration.

But as some of you might have heard, there has been a tragic shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas. We don’t yet know all the details at this moment. We will share them as we get them.


As he made those remarks, thirteen Americans were lying dead and another thirty were wounded. But in Obama’s worldview these deaths ranked behind 1) thanking bureaucrats for arranging a visit, 2) giving a “shout out” to an attendee, and 3) promising follow up on some unnamed project. Only then did he note, “some of you might have heard” about the Fort Hood shootings. The only way that makes sense is if a significant portion of his audience was comatose.

One time is an oversight. What we see here is a pattern of behavior that sounds very familiar:

Some people diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder are characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance. They have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behavior. They have a strong need for admiration, but lack feelings of empathy.[5]

Symptoms of this disorder, as defined by the DSM-IV-TR, include:[1]

  • Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
  • Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
  • Envies others and believes others envy him/her
  • Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
  • Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
  • Is arrogant in attitudes and behavior
  • Has expectations of special treatment that are unrealistic

Other symptoms in addition to the ones defined by DSM-IV-TR include: Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends, has trouble keeping healthy relationships with others, easily hurt or rejected, appears unemotional, and exaggerating special achievements and talents, setting unrealistic goals for himself/herself.[6]



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