Saturday, July 30, 2011

Obama: Some Company for his Misery

Now that the whole world seems to be piling on against our once-beloved President, allow me to pour on a small dollop of  cold comfort: he's not alone.  Insofar as he is failing (more of that in a moment), he is failing in exactly the same way as we might have expected from any of a number of other Democratic "leaders" most of whom differ from Obama only in the respect that they had the good fortune never to get elected.

Look at the record.  Our disappointment with Obama is rooted in large measure in his utter failure to connect with the American people: to inspire confidence, to resonate, to make us believe he is really on our side, to (I hate the phrase but still) control the narrative.

Then look at the long list of also-rans who preceded him: Al Gore. John Kerry.   Michael Dukakis.  Gary Hart.  Bill Bradley. And hell, sure, Adlai Stevenson.  All worthies in one way or another, all with their advocates who will say even today, "gee, if only..."  All had, to one degree or another, the technical chops for the job (ironically Obama, the part-term senator, perhaps least).  All were clean, looked nice in a suit, did not  scratch themselves or throw up on their vest.  But every one of them left you with a sense of emotional remoteness which was bound to generate paranoia and, under stress, make us think they thought the worst of us which, of course, made us think the worst of them.

I suppose I could throw in Jimmy Carter, too, except that he shared with Obama this misfortune of having his ill-suitedness exposed to the harsh light of day.  And of course I would contrast the two great modern exceptions: Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton--each an accidental president in some sense, but each able to do exactly what the others on the list cannot: to reassure us, to help us understand.  And while I am reaching back, I suppose I should extend the list of exceptions to include Harry Truman, who triumphed over all expectations of mediocrity, precisely because of his comfortable-in-his-own-skin easy assurance.

I don't mean to say that any on this long list are, or would have been, awful presidents: I've always thought Jimmy Carter was a (somewhat) better President than he got credit for being, and I haven't given up on Obama--not yet (well, certainly not as long as the alternative is the clown show formerly known as the Grand Old Party).  But I'm still haunted by the person I knew in the 80s who said that Jimmy Carter wasn't a bad President, he just wasn't a great leader. What a spectacular instance of point-missing that was. It is the job of a President to lead, and all the earnest wonkery in the world cannot trump inadequacies of leadership.

Why is it, exactly, that Democrats keep falling into the same punji trap, like women who persist in dating ex-cons and them being surprised when they come home black and blue?  I've been putting off writing this post for a bit while I tried to come up with a plausible answer to that question; I haven't come up with one yet, and I guess I am giving up the search.  I suppose it must have something to do with the agendas of the folks who control the nominating process: people whose vision of "good government" hearkens back to Cicero and turns away in horror from the image of (the first) Mayor Daley.  Ironic how it was the Republicans who gave us Rutherford B. Hayes and Herbert Hoover.  These days it is the Democrats who keep trying to profit by their example.

Final note of perspective: the other thing to tell Obama, were I his friend (in a sense, I am his friend) is that "this, too, shall pass;" that (in the immortal words of Harold Macmillan) a week is a long time in politics--and 15 months, even longer.  I've no doubt that Obama believes, as virtually all presidents (perhaps excepting Gerald Ford) believe, that he is the indispensable man, that we must reelect him or face certain disaster.  Fine.  Believe it if you will--presumably you have to believe it just to keep chugging.  And you never know what will happen between now and next year.  Poor guy, he might just get his way.

No comments: