Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
“There are aspects of my life that I can’t get back. But there are things that I can do now. When we were in Martha’s Vineyard this summer, Michelle and I would ride bikes. And now that we have masks on, we could ride through town and people wouldn’t know who we were. It felt pretty close to what I imagined — that sense of freedom, of being able to go wherever you wanted.” – Barack Obama, People Magazine Interview, Dec. 7, 2020
I confess that I subscribed to “People” magazine as part of a free offer from a bookstore and, despite having canceled the subscription, I keep receiving new issues. I usually don’t read beyond the cover, since the cover conveys pretty much all I need to know about who and what People thinks is interesting and important. The most recent issue features Barack Obama in “His Most Revealing Interview!” I actually read this article because of the cover’s claim that “the White House nearly wrecked his marriage.” I have been thinking a lot lately about the portrayal of marriage in literature and in culture, as well as its importance in my own life. But after reading the whole article, I wanted to focus on “that sense of freedom.”
The quote above closes out the article, which emphasizes the modern celebrity magazine’s motto of “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us!” We’re left with the poignant reflection that what Barack Obama most wants is to reclaim the freedom that his previous anonymity permitted him and his family. Let’s pretend we don’t notice that Barack Obama has just released his third memoir and has encouraged a friendly and fawning cover story on the impact of politics on his personal life, and just appreciate that Obama has found some measure of elusive freedom via the hottest fashion trend of 2020: face masks.
That Obama prefers not to reveal himself on a bike ride around town is understandable. Perhaps the contradiction between promoting yourself and your book while still wanting personal privacy is also understandable. People does a good job of showing the softer side of its famous subjects, and it succeeds in creating (or perhaps increasing, depending on the reader) sympathy for the Obamas. But, as fellow Ricochetti can imagine, I’m not their typical reader, so I find this effort to elevate Obama in the minds of readers annoying. Obviously, there never would be and never has been a similar attempt to sympathize with President Trump or Melania. This sort of obvious double standard and media bias is so frequent that it hardly warrants mention. If People got the scoop that the White House had nearly wrecked President Trump’s marriage, I think it’s safe to say that they would have been disappointed to include the word “nearly.”
What struck me about Obama’s quote is the way that our political leaders and elites view mask-wearing so differently than “regular” people for whom the anonymity of the mask is more likely to represent social isolation than freedom. As is the case any time someone brings up the topic of masks, I will state my position that I always wear a mask indoors, wherever required or requested and that I’m fine with that. But wearing a mask when going about daily life discourages human connections. For those of us without our own lucrative book deals or opportunities for TV and magazine interviews, those connections are actually a crucial part of the freedom we seek.
I don’t begrudge Obama his dreams for freedom from constant attention and scrutiny, but his comment shows that masks offer a relief from precisely those intrusions. I think this captures a feeling shared by many of our current political leaders who seek power without accountability. Every day brings news of yet another mayor or county health commissioners who can’t seem to abide by the rules they set for the rest of us. I keep wondering why they set themselves up for the accusation of hypocrisy instead of simply saying, “judge for yourself and do what you think is best.” (I know it’s because they don’t believe we can judge for ourselves, but I keep wondering anyway). During the presidential campaign, the masked appearances of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seemed to me to be symbolic of their lack of transparency. In contrast, Trump was fully visible and very available to the press. Many people I know preferred the masked politicians. That’s what really bothers me.Published in