Faculty Colloquium: Obama Fought the Battle of Jericho

Please join us on Friday, November 16th at 3 p.m. in the Hatfield Room for this week’s Faculty Colloquium being presented by David Gutterman, Associate Professor of Politics.

Title: Obama Fought the Battle of Jericho

Abstract: In his first campaign for President, Barack Obama described himself not just as part of the Joshua Generation, but as the American Joshua – prepared, able, and destined to lead the nation beyond the place of Moses on the mountaintop down into the promised land. In part, this portrayal was indicative of Obama’s determination to write himself into the American story, but this story of Joshua is also an effort to tell the nation a story about itself. From his March 5, 2007 speech in Selma, Alabama where he positioned himself figuratively as a son of the civil rights activists to his November 4, 2008 acceptance speech where he answered Sam Cooke’s plaintive hopes by declaring that “change has come to America,” Obama consciously framed his mission as fulfilling the promise of the “Moses generation.”

But this story largely disappeared once Obama began governing. Indeed, one of the remarkable – and for many disappointing – aspects of Obama’s first term in office is that despite the powerful tales he told on the campaign trail, we are still waiting for him to be, as Matt Bai wrote recently in The New York Times, the “narrator in chief.” Even on the campaign trail in 2012, Obama rarely ascended to the heights of his power as storyteller that he demonstrated in the previous campaign – and he never returned to the story of Moses and Joshua. In this essay I address the disappearance of this political narrative during Obama’s term as President and in his campaign for re-election. Is this failure to tell this resonant political narrative indicative of a problem in the story itself – or in the storyteller?