President Barack Obama during a briefing in the Oval Office yesterday (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
There are pauses that indicate a deep thoughtfulness and careful weighing of what one is about to say and then there are pauses that suggest that the person taking them is asking himself, “What the fuck am I doing this for?”
These days President Barack Obama’s increasingly seems like someone in the latter category. His White House news conference yesterday about the economy is a good example of that. It is as if one of Obama’s early prototypes had been accidentally sent out because of a dispatching error. I say this fully conscious that while the president carries an enormous burden on his shoulders, I am merely handing down cheap pronouncements and engaging in unfounded pop psychology. Be in no doubt as to who is of consequence here. Nevertheless, it needs to be said.
It is not so much that he said “The private sector is doing fine” but the obvious lack of conviction with which he said it that is galling. To be fair to him, I see nothing even remotely wrong about what he said once you read the whole context. Here is what he actually said: “We’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government — oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.”
Soon afterwards he had to walk back that statement a bit by adding some more nuance to it. “Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That’s the reason I had the press conference,” he said. “There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater,” he continued, “And that’s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference.”
“What I’m interested in hearing from Congress and Mr. (Mitt) Romney is what steps are they willing to take right now that are going to make an actual difference. And so far, all we’ve heard are additional tax cuts to the folks who are doing fine,” the president said.
You can see why out of all the verbiage in this viciously political season Obama’s antagonists would choose only the “The private sector is doing fine” bit to slam him as someone out of touch. It is like in cricket when a batsman is gifted a half volley. Only the foolish would not hit the ball on the rise to score some handsome runs. There is nothing particularly wrong with Obama’s detractors jumping all over his comment and making the most out of it.
Coming back to my starting comment, Obama does give the sense of someone who feels privately dejected and disillusioned with what is going on with his life. Some might say that perhaps political success came to him too early. While there is something to be said about being seasoned and experienced, I do not regard it as the decisive factor for someone seeking the highest public office. If Obama appears diminished to his ardent supporters it is because for some inexplicable reason he refuses to genuinely champion his core political philosophy whatever that may be or take possession of his own accomplishments however thin or tenuous they may be.
If he is an unhinged liberal the way the Republicans paint him to be he should say so without any inhibition whatsoever. As in life, so in politics there is not just one approach that is right. He needs to free himself from the constraints of political calculations and be what he naturally is. He needs to tap into that reserve of hubris that propelled him to seek presidency in the first place in 2008. He needs to trust his own conceit much more. He needs to stand before the people fully defined and clarified without being one bit apologetic about it. He needs to say ‘America I stand for you, with you, behind you, beside you, no matter what.’
And with that I end my soaring sermon that no one really sought.