Another installment from the It’s Not Just Me Dept.
If ubiquity were the measure of a presidency, Barack Obama would already be grinning at us from Mount Rushmore. But of course it is not. Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it. He’s a man with an endless, worthy to-do list—health care, climate change, bank reform, global capital regulation, AfPak, the Middle East, you name it—but, as yet, no boxes checked “done.” This is a problem that style will not fix. Unless Obama learns to rely less on charm, rhetoric, and good intentions and more on picking his spots and winning in political combat, he’s not going to be reelected, let alone enshrined in South Dakota.
Who knew Howard Fineman was a racist too?
Hardly a Bitter/Clinger stalwart, Fineman is noticing something he could have learned from me in August of 2008 had he paid any attention. The Barack Obama Show is a lot like Cirque du Soleil: fun and flashy but not exactly laden with substance.
The president’s problem isn’t that he is too visible; it’s the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer. There is, at times, a self-referential (even self-reverential) tone in his big speeches. They are heavily salted with the words “I” and “my.” (He used the former 11 times in the first few paragraphs of his address to the U.N. last week.) Obama is a historic figure, but that is the beginning, not the end, of the story.
After a year of being called a variety of names for daring to say anything negative about this historic president, I’ll let a frequent Keith Olbermann guest state what is obvious to everyone outside the cultish Cone of Obamic Delight.
There is only so much political mileage that can still be had by his reminding the world that he is not George W. Bush. It was the winning theme of the 2008 campaign, but that race ended nearly a year ago. The ex-president is now more ex than ever, yet the current president, who vowed to look forward, is still reaching back to Bush as bogeyman.
He did it again in that U.N. speech. The delegates wanted to know what the president was going to do about Israel and the Palestinian territories. He answered by telling them what his predecessor had failed to do. This was effective for his first month or two. Now it is starting to sound more like an excuse than an explanation.
“Bush’s Fault!!!!” is still the de facto thought substitute for the style-over-substance mavens who make up the majority of President Obama’s hard core supporters. What choice do they have? The charge of racism has been leveled at virtually anyone who has disagreed with the president on anything so they have painted themselves into a corner where they dare not question Obama lest they think of themselves as racists. They are, of course, because they first think of him as a black president and not simply “the” president.
The Obama playbook throughout the campaign and during the first several months of his presidency has been a simple one: give the faithful something empty but quotable that an adoring press corps will repeat ad nauseam (“jobs saved or created”, “47-um-30 million uninsured”, etc.) and hope that kid who notices the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes doesn’t show up. If that doesn’t work, send Michelle out for a sleeveless photo-op. Failing all else, have virtually everyone around the president play a game of Race Card while he appears to be above the fray.
This might be fine for motivating the base in a year where your party was going to win anyway but it’s not much of an approach to actually being the President of the United States.
We’ve only scratched the surface of Barack Obama’s presidency but all we’ve found under it thus far is more surface.