NEA Chief compares Obama to Caesar, historians calls speach "bizarre"

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Maybe President Obama will win the Nobel Prize for Literature, too, now that the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts has declared that "Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar."

Rocco Landesman rendered unto Obama that considerable compliment in a little-noticed speech to a group of art philanthropists in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week, praising the president as an "Optimist in Chief" who is developing "the most arts-supportive administration since Roosevelt."

Putting the president in the pantheon with such pencil-pushing powerhouses as the man who was, literally, the Czar of all Czars, Landesman said that since Obama "actually writes his own books," he's the most powerful man to be a true writer in the 2,000 years since Caesar strode the narrow earth.

"That has to be good for American artists," he said.

But one man's praise is another's dagger, say presidential historians, who called the speech a "bizarre" and illiterate attempt to praise a political patron -- and a big misfire for the NEA chief.

"Julius Caesar is historically the last person in the world that American presidents would want to be compared to," said historian Richard Brookhiser, who has written widely on the Founding Fathers. "He tried to subvert the republic -- that's why he was killed."

Though Caesar has been justly celebrated for his commentaries on Rome's Gallic and Civil Wars, he has been cursed by democrats for centuries for his role in the systematic destruction of Rome's republican government.

"Caesar ... was certainly the symbol during the whole founding period of the despot, of the aspiring despot," said Brookhiser. "The Founders insulted each other by calling each other Caesar."

A spokesman for the NEA called the chairman's comparison a "bit of an overstatement" -- a "rhetorical flourish" that still scored an important point.

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