Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The bust of Churchill; or, The Lamp of History and the Klieg Lights of Journalism

Judging from Dana Milbank's column in today's Wash Post ("No Colgate Moment, Indeed"), the journalistic consensus on both sides of the pond is that PM Gordon Brown, in his just-concluded visit, got a less-than-very-warm reception from Pres. Obama, compared at least to the precedents set by the Bush-Blair encounters. No joint press conference, no night at Camp David, and -- horrors! -- Obama sent back to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill lent by Blair to Bush and kept by the latter in the Oval Office. Obama and Brown also had a somewhat awkward-sounding exchange about the possibility of playing tennis sometime. (The world economy is melting down, and they're chatting about tennis. I know, a cheap shot.)

So, does any of this matter? Not really. Obama may not be an Anglophile, but I wouldn't be surprised if he knows at least a bit more about British history than Bush (that wouldn't be hard). Obama and Brown may not have the warmest rapport, but, again, so what? Bush and Blair, after all, had too close a rapport: they are forever linked in the public mind with the invasion of Iraq, which was not their finest hour, to put it mildly.

And as for returning the bust of Churchill: this is not, heaven knows, about Churchill. The bust was a loan to Bush from Blair. No wonder Obama is not eager to keep it around.

"History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past," Churchill famously remarked in the House of Commons (November 12, 1940). On the other hand, journalism, often called the first draft of history, turns its indiscriminate flood lights on the present, bathing everything in a garish glow and producing mountains of ephemera, through which some future historians -- can anyone possibly envy them? -- will have to wade. Give us a break: let the bust of Churchill alone, and focus on something more consequential than whether the president and the prime minister use the same brand of toothpaste.

1 comment:

bro said...

"Not their finest hour" -- good one. BTW, I think yesterday or day before was anniversary of Iron Curtain speech.