Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.
“This president needs to tell BP, ’I’m your daddy,’ “ scolded James Carville, a New Orleans resident, as he called Barack Obama’s response to Louisiana’s new watery heartbreak “lackadaisical.”
At a press conference, Obama said Malia had asked him, as he shaved, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?” (That hole should be plugged with a junk-shot of Glenn Beck, who crudely mocked the adorable Malia.) Oddly, the good father who wrote so poignantly about growing up without a daddy scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency.
In the campaign, Obama’s fight flagged to the point that his donors openly upbraided him. In the Oval, he waited too long to express outrage and offer leadership on A.I.G., the banks, the bonuses, the job loss and mortgage fears, the Christmas underwear bomber, the death panel scare tactics, the ugly name-calling of Tea Party protesters.
Too often it feels as though Barry is watching from a balcony, reluctant to enter the fray until the clamor of the crowd forces him to come down. The pattern is perverse. The man whose presidency is rooted in his ability to inspire withholds that inspiration when it is most needed.
Oblivious to warnings about Osama hitting the U.S. and Katrina hitting New Orleans, W. often seemed more absorbed in workouts than work. Obama, by contrast, does his homework; he conveys a rare and impressive grasp of difficult subjects when he at last deigns to talk to the news media and reassure those whose lives are overturned by disaster.
The wound-tight, travel-light Obama has a distaste for the adversarial and the random. But if you stick too rigidly to a No Drama rule in the White House, you risk keeping reality at bay. Presidencies are always about crisis management.
Obama invented himself against all odds and repeated parental abandonment, and he worked hard to regiment his emotions. But now that can come across as imperviousness and inflexibility. He wants to run the agenda; he doesn’t want the agenda to run him. Once you become president, though, there’s no way to predict what your crises will be.
F.D.R. achieved greatness not by means of imposing his temperament and intellect on the world but by reacting to what the world threw at him.
For five weeks, it looked as though Obama considered the gushing that became the worst oil spill in U.S. history a distraction, like a fire alarm going off in the middle of a law seminar he was teaching. He’ll deal with it, but he’s annoyed because it’s not on his syllabus.
Even if Obama doesn’t watch “Treme” on HBO, it’s strange that he would not have a more spontaneous emotional response to another horrendous hit for Louisiana, with residents and lawmakers crying on the news and dead pelicans washing up on shore. But then, he didn’t make his first-ever visit to New Orleans until nearly a year after Katrina hit. “I never had occasion to be here,” he told The Times’s Jeff Zeleny, then at The Chicago Tribune.
Just as President Clinton once protested to reporters that he was still “relevant,” President Obama had to protest to reporters last week that he has feelings.
He seemed to tune out a bit after the exhausting battle over health care, with the air of someone who says to himself: “Oh, man, that was a heavy lift. I’m taking a break.”
He’s spending the holiday weekend in Chicago when he should be commemorating Memorial Day here with the families of troops killed in battle and with veterans at Arlington Cemetery.
Republican senators who had a contentious lunch with the president last week described him as whiny, thin-skinned and in over his head, and there was extreme Democratic angst at the White House’s dilatory and deferential attitude on the spill.
Even more than with the greedy financiers and arrogant carmakers, it was important to offend and slap back the deceptive malefactors at BP.
Obama and top aides who believe in his divinity make a mistake to dismiss complaints of his aloofness as Washington white noise. He treats the press as a nuisance rather than examining his own inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.
“The media may get tired of the story, but we will not,” he told Gulf Coast residents when he visited on Friday. Actually, if it weren’t for the media, the president would probably never have woken up from his torpor and flown down there.(Continues here at NYT)