August 31, 2009
Another Failed PresidencyBy Geoffrey P. Hunt
Barack Obama is on track to have the most spectacularly failed presidency since Woodrow Wilson.
In the modern era, we've seen several failed presidencies--led by Jimmy Carter and LBJ. Failed presidents have one strong common trait-- they are repudiated, in the vernacular, spat out. Of course, LBJ wisely took the exit ramp early, avoiding a shove into oncoming traffic by his own party. Richard Nixon indeed resigned in disgrace, yet his reputation as a statesman has been partially restored by his triumphant overture to China.
George Bush Jr didn't fail so much as he was perceived to have been too much of a patrician while being uncomfortable with his more conservative allies. Yet George Bush Sr is still perceived as a man of uncommon decency, loyal to the enduring American character of rugged self-determination, free markets, and generosity. George W will eventually be treated more kindly by historians as one whose potential was squashed by his own compromise of conservative principles, in some ways repeating the mistakes of his father, while ignoring many lessons in executive leadership he should have learned at Harvard Business School. Of course George W could never quite overcome being dogged from the outset by half of the nation convinced he was electorally illegitimate -- thus aiding the resurgence of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
But, Barack Obama is failing. Failing big. Failing fast. And failing everywhere: foreign policy, domestic initiatives, and most importantly, in forging connections with the American people. The incomparable Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal put her finger on it: He is failing because he has no understanding of the American people, and may indeed loathe them. Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard says he is failing because he has lost control of his message, and is overexposed. Clarice Feldman of American Thinker produced a dispositive commentary showing that Obama is failing because fundamentally he is neither smart nor articulate; his intellectual dishonesty is conspicuous by its audacity and lack of shame.
But, there is something more seriously wrong: How could a new president riding in on a wave of unprecedented promise and goodwill have forfeited his tenure and become a lame duck in six months? His poll ratings are in free fall. In generic balloting, the Republicans have now seized a five point advantage. This truly is unbelievable. What's going on?
No narrative. Obama doesn't have a narrative. No, not a narrative about himself. He has a self-narrative, much of it fabricated, cleverly disguised or written by someone else. But this self-narrative is isolated and doesn't connect with us. He doesn't have an American narrative that draws upon the rest of us. All successful presidents have a narrative about the American character that intersects with their own where they display a command of history and reveal an authenticity at the core of their personality that resonates in a positive endearing way with the majority of Americans. We admire those presidents whose narratives not only touch our own, but who seem stronger, wiser, and smarter than we are. Presidents we admire are aspirational peers, even those whose politics don't align exactly with our own: Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Ike, Reagan.
But not this president. It's not so much that he's a phony, knows nothing about economics, is historically illiterate, and woefully small minded for the size of the task-- all contributory of course. It's that he's not one of us. And whatever he is, his profile is fuzzy and devoid of content, like a cardboard cutout made from delaminated corrugated paper. Moreover, he doesn't command our respect and is unable to appeal to our own common sense. His notions of right and wrong are repugnant and how things work just don't add up. They are not existential. His descriptions of the world we live in don't make sense and don't correspond with our experience.
In the meantime, while we've been struggling to take a measurement of this man, he's dissed just about every one of us--financiers, energy producers, banks, insurance executives, police officers, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, post office workers, and anybody else who has a non-green job. Expect Obama to lament at his last press conference in 2012: "For those of you I offended, I apologize. For those of you who were not offended, you just didn't give me enough time; if only I'd had a second term, I could have offended you too."
Mercifully, the Founders at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 devised a useful remedy for such a desperate state--staggered terms for both houses of the legislature and the executive. An equally abominable Congress can get voted out next year. With a new Congress, there's always hope of legislative gridlock until we vote for president again two short years after that.
Yes, small presidents do fail, Barack Obama among them. The coyotes howl but the wagon train keeps rolling along.