NEW YORK – Is the pressure of the Oval Office getting to Barack Obama?
A noted presidential scholar thinks so, suggesting he looks 10 years older than when he assumed office on Jan. 20, 2009.
“I think President Obama has aged 10 years in four years,” noted Harold Holzer, senior vice president for external affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in an in-person exclusive interview with WND.
“President Obama almost looks like his own uncle or older brother right now,” said Holzer. “The office is tough and nobody escapes it.”
Obama himself joked about the subject at the White House Correspondents Dinner last month, suggesting he might go from a 5 to a 6 on the “Just-for-Men scale” to eliminate some graying hair.
One of the nation’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln, Holzer is also an expert in the management of the public image of the presidency, having co-authored in 1984, a seminal study titled “The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Print.”
Comparing Obama to Lincoln, a comparison Obama himself likes to make, Holzer observed: “I think he has done better health-wise than most. Lincoln didn’t play basketball or do push-ups. In that era, there was not the same presence of physical fitness.”
Noting that Lincoln was a teetotaler, Holzer added, “And I hope President Obama treats himself to a glass of wine once and a while, for relief.”
“The office is tough. Nobody escapes,” he said, recalling that Obama also has quipped at the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner that, should he have a second term in office, he will probably begin looking more like actor Morgan Freeman.
See Barack Obama’s speech at the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner:
Holzer noted previous presidents have markedly aged in office due to the combination of fatigue from being on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but also because of the isolation of the office.
“The president is very isolated,” he noted. “If you’ve ever been in the White House, especially in the afternoon or evening, you’re in a wonderful, historic environment, but you’re in a cocoon. It’s almost like you’re aging in a greenhouse. It closes in on you.”
Holzer observed that the photographs of Lincoln show great changes from 1860 when he ran for the presidency and 1865, just before his assassination.
“Lincoln subjected himself to image scrutiny throughout his presidency, no matter how busy he was, being photographed in the context of painters and sculptors,” he said. “Lincoln’s general trend was downhill.
“You see a man who was losing weight, his cheeks are falling in, his hair is finally turning to some gray, and he cuts his beard down and down, especially after he had smallpox in 1863. The weight loss is dramatic. He probably went from weighing 180 to 150.”
Yet Holzer commented on the expressiveness seen in the photographs taken of Lincoln, especially toward the end of his presidency.
“As a slight smile finally creeps on that haggard and careworn face, you see the quality coming through his eyes – the understanding, the sympathy, the all-knowingness,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody ever had Lincoln’s look that combined guile and wisdom, practicality and a look at the distant future. It was a remarkable look. One of the artists who saw Lincoln said his soul shone through his eyes.”
Holzer commented that people who came into Lincoln’s presence were typically impacted by his wisdom, as well as the superiority of his intellect.
“For all his informality, Lincoln was quite dignified,” he said. “Lincoln might have taken his jacket off, or his shoes off, but he had no equal intellectually.”
The most remarkable president, Holzer commented, was Ronald Reagan, who emerged from the presidency looking virtually the same as when he entered.
Observing that George W. Bush, whom Holzer considered a hard-working president, appears more youthful now that he is out of office.
“If you’re lucky enough to get out of the presidency in one piece, with your good humor in tact and a sense of calm, you can actually look better,” Holzer commented regarding Bush II.
“You can recover from the presidency,” Holzer concluded. “There’s nothing like a by-pass (referring to Bill Clinton) and a good vocational ranch (referring to George W. Bush) to help you get over the demands of the presidency.”
Before concluding the interview, Holzer shared with WND an original portrait of Lincoln painted by Thomas M. Johnston from life in Springfield, Ill., during the summer of 1860, when Lincoln was campaigning for president. Holzer has the portrait on loan, hanging on his wall of his office in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue.
“It might be a lovely thing to show your viewers and readers, because it shows a robust, rosy-cheeked man, and to show that in comparison to what happened just five years later is quite dramatic,” Holzer concluded.