The First

"The First..."

Shelby Steele posits an explanation for the off-the-cliff style of the current President.

Reagan came into office as a very well-defined man with an unequivocal sense of direction. Agree with him or not, you knew what kind of society he wanted. Mr. Obama, despite his new resolve, remains rather undefined—a president happy to have others write his "transformative" legislation. As the health-care bill and the stimulus package illustrate, scale is functioning as vision. From where does it come?

Well, suppose you were the first black president of the United States and, therefore, also the first black head-of-state in the entire history of Western Civilization. You represent a human first, something entirely new under the sun. There aren't even any myths that speak directly to your circumstance, no allegorical tales of ancient black kings who ruled over white kingdoms.

If anything, you may literally experience yourself as a myth in the making. After all, you embody a heretofore unimaginable transcendence over the old human plagues of tribalism, hatred and ignorance. Standing on ground that no man has stood on before, wouldn't it be understandable if you felt pressured by the grandiosity of your circumstance? Isn't there a special—and impossible—burden on "the first" to do something that lives up to his historical originality?
The concept is that 'the first X' has a kind of obligation to institute massive, historic changes in order to justify their having been 'the first X.' If that's right, it's a solid argument against electing anyone else to the office who could plausibly claim to be 'the first X,' regardless of what X might be.

The alternative that might allow you to support a 'first X' would be if they (like Reagan) articulated a clear vision of what they intended to do, along the lines of: 'As the first X president, I will return our government to the clear Constitutional principles that the Founders intended. Everything I do will be intended to restore the government that Washington would have wanted: the first X president will strive to be just like the first president.'

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