I can’t be the only person in America who, at about minute 35 in President Obama’s almost hour-long “framing” speech in Cleveland Thursday, wanted to tell the president, as the Dude famously screams at Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, “You’re living in the past!”
Obama’s overly long, repetitive, and by turns self-pitying and self-congratulatory address was so soaked through with nostalgia that MSNBC should have broadcast it in sepia tones. The speech—which even the liberal Obama biographer Jonathan Alter called one of the president’s “least successful” political communications—revealed an incumbent desperately trying to replay the 2008 election. But no oratory will make up for a flawed record and a vague, fissiparous, and unappealing agenda.
The president himself forced this abrupt re-launch of his reelection campaign. After a bad week that began with terrible job numbers, proceeded to Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall, and culminated in awful fundraising news, Obama tried to recover last Friday by addressing the press on the state of the economy. Except things went horribly wrong. The president uttered six words—“the private sector is doing fine”—that not only will plague him for the rest of the campaign, but also perfectly captured his complacent attitude toward all things outside the realm of government.
The moment prompted a burst of panic throughout the Democratic hive mind, with media types clucking their tongues at the president’s campaign and party strategists questioning the salience of his message. Yesterday’s event in Ohio was thus intended to serve as a sort of domestic analogue to President Obama’s “reset” with Russia. By the looks of things, it will prove to be just as unsuccessful.
The very idea that Obama has the ability to shape his political fortunes through rhetoric is a backwards-looking myth. It is part of the pop narrative of Obama’s 2008 candidacy, in which the young freshman senator was able to rescue his moribund campaign from the evil Clinton machine by giving a single speech at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November 2007. More likely it was Obama’s antiwar stance in an antiwar party that gave him the edge in the Iowa caucuses the following January, but that has not stopped the president or his supporters from having an almost theological attachment to his oratorical prowess.
The evidence in this case, however, is decidedly on the side of the nonbelievers. The Washington Post counts over 500 speeches or appearances where the president has mentioned health care, but his overhaul remains remarkably unpopular. The president’s campaign appearances on behalf of Creigh Deeds in Virginia, Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, and Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia were unsuccessful, which may have been why he didn’t even bother to campaign in Wisconsin for Tom Barrett (who lost anyway). A televised address last July did not win Obama his lusted-after tax increase on the rich, nor did remarks to a joint session of Congress win passage of his American Jobs Act. Eleven “major” speeches on the economy have not generated a full recovery or prevented economic indicators from backsliding. Indeed, one of President Obama’s few accomplishments has been to prove, definitively, the worthlessness of the bully pulpit.
As we all realized four years ago, Barack Obama is a political myth. Oh, there is a real man behind the myth, but he has little in common with the demi-god who ran for President.
Obama the Myth is a history changing, once in a generation leader. He is a gifted orator, a Jedi Master of politics and the smartest man to ever occupy the Oval Office. He brings people together, inspires them and guides them to a better tomorrow. He farts Skittles and pees rainbows.
Obama the man is an incompetent bullshit artist with no principles. But his greatest weakness isn’t incompetence, it’s hubris. He REALLY believes he is Obama the Myth.
He is a narcissist who is surrounded by sycophants dedicated to preserving his delusions of grandeur. He smokes his own hopium. He gets high on his own supply.
Incompetence is a relative thing. Obama has some skills, and he looks good in a suit. Anyone who graduated from Columbia and Harvard Law School must have a few functioning brain cells. But then again, the hardest part about graduating from Ivy League schools is getting into them in the first place.
Washington DC is filled with political hacks. With Obama’s mediocre skills and lack of morals he could have easily spent a long career in the Senate – just like Joe Biden. But Obama’s an exception to the Peter Principle – he’s risen above his level of incompetence.
He had a lot of help getting there. On his own he never would have made it to the Senate. He had rich and powerful “friends” who hooked him up with David Axelrod, one of the most sought-after political fixers in the country.
It was a symbiotic relationship. They wanted to use him, and he wanted to use them. Every puppet needs his puppet master, but Obama ain’t Gepetto.
Politics is a dirty business. There is an old saying – “To get to the top you have to kiss a lot of bottom.” They ALL do it. Uncorruptible politicians don’t last long or go far.
Jack Stanton: This is it, Henry. This is the price you pay to lead. You don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president? He had to tell his little stories and smile his shit-eating back-country grin. And he did it just so that one day he would have the opportunity to stand in front of the nation and appeal to the better angels of our nature. And that’s where the bullshit stops. That’s what it’s all about. So that we have the opportunity to make the most of it. To do it the right way.
You know as well as I do, that plenty of people playing this game, they don’t think that way. They’re willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to people, divide them, play on their worst fears for nothing! Just for the prize.
Or, as Jesse Unruh famously said:
“If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you have no business being up here.”
On the other hand, in Chicago they say, “An honest politician is one who stays bought.” By that measure, Barack Obama is an honest politician.
One thing I am unsure of – did Obama’s puppeteers realize he would be an unpopular, incompetent president? Think about that for a while.
But I digress. We were talking about Obama the Myth.
Ten years ago (they hooked up in 2002) when David Axelrod began to work his magic and animate an empty suit, Obama was a blank slate. He was also a little-known state senator. His first memoir had flopped and he got his ass kicked by Bobby Rush two years earlier.
By 2002 Obama had never won a contested election. He had never championed any legislation that passed. He had never spoken before a big crowd. He had never heard a crowd chanting “O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!”
David Axelrod created Obama the Myth, and the first person he sold it to was Barack Obama.
Obama never suffered from a lack of self-esteem. Quite the opposite. But Axelrod introduced him to a drug better than any choom he ever smoked – adulation.
With Axelrod’s help Obama won a statewide primary. Then he got to be the keynote speaker at the 2004 DNC convention. His speech was broadcast nationwide on primetime. A few months later he was elected to the US Senate. Then he got another book deal, and this one sold. He even got to go on Oprah!
By 2007 the Obama Youth were leading campaign rallies in chants of “O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!” Girls were swooning during his speeches. The media were fawning over him. For a narcissist like Obama this was more addictive than crack cocaine.
Obamamania peaked in February 2008 just before Hillary began her comeback. His followers didn’t abandon him, but their ranks stopped growing. Barack didn’t notice, even when his campaign had to resort to tricks to fill his rallies, because he was surrounded by adoring sycophants.
They created a seal for him to use. Campaign songs were written for him. They built him his own temple just to give a single speech. His popularity was slipping, but he held on to win the election although by a narrower margin than it should have been.
Then disaster struck – he had to actually start leading. He had to pick his Cabinet and White House staff. He had to start keeping (or breaking) promises. He couldn’t be all things to all people anymore. He had to, you know, do stuff.
Here is how you can tell he believes his own hype – his “go to” move is making a speech. He thinks he can talk people into anything or talk himself out of trouble. If he’s not making a speech he’s doing interviews. He shows up on television more than any POTUS in history.
His approval rating was at 65% on Inauguration Day. By Christmas 2009 it was below 50% and has only risen back over the halfway mark four times since then – each one very brief. Interestingly, his approval ratings tend to go up when he is out of the news.
Make no mistake – Obama wants a second term. He thinks he deserves it and will get it. Losing a reelection bid is the mark of a failed presidency and Obama couldn’t stand the idea of failure.
If current trends continue, Obama is going to have a rude awakening in a few months. I honestly don’t know if he’ll be able to handle it. Jimmy Carter and Poppy Bush both failed to win second terms, but neither one had the massive ego that Obama has.
Until then you can expect what we’ve been seeing recently – Obama casting about for a winning theme, repeatedly trying to recapture that old magic, growing more and more confused as nothing seems to work.
Karma’s a bitch.