Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vanity Fair Abandons Obama

Here’s another entry in the, “Now they tell us” sweepstakes. Or is it another rat abandoning a sinking ship?

The world would be a better place if journalists who change their mind about their Messiah, Barack Obama, would take some responsibility for the political fraud that they have helped perpetrate.

But, alas, our is not the best of all possible worlds.

In the new Vanity Fair Todd Purdum paints a devastating portrait of Obama’s incompetence. He has done some new reporting but his analysis is old hat by now. I and many others have been saying the same thing for years. Obviously, the thought has far more weight when it appears in the pages of Vanity Fair.

Before we imagine that Purdum has found religion, we need to keep in mind that he is married to Bill Clinton’s first press secretary, Dee Dee Myers. We wish them both much happiness.

When Purdum declares, in an offhand way, that Hillary Clintion was the only figure in the Obama inner circle who had “unquestioned stature” you know that he is flacking for the Clintons.

No one with any discernment believes that Hillary Clinton accomplished much of anything when she was Secretary of State. To think of her as commanding respect on the world stage is a joke, and not a good one, at that.

While we rejoice Purdum’s discovery of President Obama’s ineptitude, one suspects that he is laying the groundwork for a Hillary campaign by distancing her from the unfolding calamity of the Obama administration.

You know and I know that Hillary does not want to run on the Obama record. And we also know that Hillary is not going to be running on her own achievements and demonstrated competence.

Like Obama when he ran for the presidency, she has none.

To return to Purdum, he argues cogently and correctly that Obama does not know how to function as president. When the historians look back over our political history they will wonder at America’s having elected a present who is so ill-suited to his role.

Also, Purdum provides an excellent picture of how not to lead or to manage.

As a chronic loner Obama does not know how organizations function and does not know what is needed to manage one.

Purdum cannot resist the urge to see it all in terms of Obama’s childhood, but I think that his points make good sense. As a child, he says, Obama was abandoned by his father and his mother. Feeling abandoned and rejected he suffered from what I would call anomie. He never knew what it was like to belong to a family or to a group. He could only trust and rely on himself.

Obviously, you cannot manage a staff if you do not trust anyone.

In Purdum’s words:

From a far earlier age and to a far greater degree than is generally understood, Obama has always been alone. He was abandoned not only by his black African father, whom he later met just once at age 10, but also by his white American mother, who left him as a teenager with her parents in Hawaii to pursue graduate fieldwork in anthropology in Indonesia. At an age when most adolescents are grappling with how to break away from their families, Obama’s had crumbled away from him.

If he had chosen to be a novelist or neurosurgeon, an airline pilot or an atomic engineer, the very qualities of self-sufficiency that even some of his strongest supporters find so frustrating would be an unalloyed asset. But in a politician—above all, in a president—such qualities are confounding and, at times, crippling.

Being isolated from other people, Obama suffered from a crippling lack of self-confidence. Perhaps for that reason, and perhaps for his raw inexperience, Obama does not know how to manage his own administration. Purdum calls the Obamacare rollout a case in point:

Obama’s self-evident isolation has another effect: It tends to insulate him from engagement in the management of his own administration. The latest round of “what did the president know and when did he know it” on the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and the tapping of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone raised troubling questions: Were Obama’s aides too afraid to tell him? Was he too detached to ask? Or both? At the least, such glaring failures cast fresh doubt on Obama’s invariable assurance to those around him in times of trouble: “I got this.”

Glaring failures accompanied by arrogant self-confidence. Not only that Obama is incompetent but that he is incapable of admitting his faults, even to himself. Purdum suggests that Obama can never admit to himself that he has done anything wrong. Obviously, this character flaw makes it impossible to apologize.

Thus, Obama lives in a bubble, tended by people who stroke his ego. He tends to avoid the give-and-take of conversation with other people.

Many have remarked that Obama does not know how to work a room and does not know how to socialize with Congress. Worse yet, he fails to extend the most minimal forms of courtesy.

Purdum raises an important issue here. Many people think that minimal courtesies are trivial and thus that failing to respect them is not very important.

And yet, since it takes so little to show courtesy the failure to do counts as a more grievous insult.

Purdum describes the Obama way:

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that Obama did not do himself at least some real harm in September by abruptly canceling the annual congressional picnic at the White House—which had already been postponed from June—on the grounds that members would be too busy considering the president’s request for authority to use force in Syria. The rain check was delivered in a terse, graceless, 53-word e-mail to Capitol Hill offices, announcing that “[t]he President and Mrs. Obama look forward to welcoming Members of Congress and their immediate families at the Congressional Holiday Ball in December.” Immediate families. Such a friendly, legalistic ring.

The Obamas, Purdum adds, act as though they are too good to socialize with the other people in Washington. One suspects that they do not really feel that they belong. Whatever they feel and whatever their reasons other Washington players feel that they have been insulted.

When Obama needs political allies or needs to take access the wisdom of Washington players, no one is inclined to help:

Five years into their tenure, the couple has a social reputation few would have envisioned when they came to town: more standoffish than the Bushes, and ruder than the Clintons.

Obviously, the same character flaw extends to relationships with foreign leaders:

And speaking of summits, Obama has no relationship with any foreign leader that is remotely akin to Ronald Reagan’s with Margaret Thatcher, or Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s with Tony Blair. The scandalous phone-tapping imbroglio—even if the fault of the Bush administration—now makes it unlikely that he ever will.)

Those who have observed Obama closely have come away with the impression that he is insecure, that he knows that he is not up to the job and that he is afraid that one day the curtain will fall and he will be revealed to be an impostor.

In Purdum’s analysis:

His aloneness is generally regarded as springing from a surfeit of self-confidence, a certitude that he really does know best. But at least one former senior administration adviser has argued that the trait springs from the opposite source: a basic insecurity on the president’s part, one that keeps him from surrounding himself with strong intellectual rivals in either the White House or the Cabinet. Competent they may be, but with Hillary Clinton gone there is no figure of unquestioned stature. He has quietly purged from his inner circle those most likely to stand up to him, and barely suffered the manful efforts of his latest chief of staff, McDonough, to encourage him to reach out to the remaining slivers of the Republican sanity caucus in Congress.

As expected, Purdum manages a gratuitous swipe at Republicans. Yet, the logic of his argument suggests that Obama himself is responsible for the rancid tone that has come to infest Washington. Obamacare is symptomatic.

When Obama decided that the Affordable Care Act needed to be passed by any means necessary he was treating Republicans, not like the loyal opposition, people he could perhaps do business with, but as a demonic force that needed to be destroyed.

Worse yet, if we are to believe Purdum, is Obama's failure to develop relationships with his fellow Democrats.

It’s no wonder that politicians do not trust each other, that they do not want to work with each other and that the American body politic has become divided against itself.


JP said...

"When the historians look back over our political history they will wonder at America’s having elected a present who is so ill-suited to his role."

The current system isn't designed to elect a president who is well-suited to the role, so this is a reasonable and expected outcome of the process that we have.

It really isn't designed in a manner that is consistent with the actual topology of human psychology.

It's serviceable, but I'm not sure what the point is of criticizing a system that wasn't really designed much beyond being a basic republican structure that elects mediocrity and incompetence on a regular basis as a matter of course.

There are additional cultural problems that also impact any political structure, so you gain additional significant error from them as well.

Leo G said...

Stuart, way off topic for this column.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

thanks, it's well on point for the What Not To Wear post... good to see someone getting some good therapy.

Sam L. said...

I did not know that Purdom was connected to the Clintons.

Battlespace prep for Hillary!? Seems most likely. I'm sure the media would prefer the Clintons; they know how to schmooze.

When historians look back, if honest, they will indict the media's butt-kissing for Barry.

43? I read that he and Laura get along fine with soldiers and regular folks.

Rancid tone? Barry's honeyed tones taste of bitter gall.

David Foster said...

"If he had chosen to be a novelist or neurosurgeon, an airline pilot or an atomic engineer, the very qualities of self-sufficiency that even some of his strongest supporters find so frustrating would be an unalloyed asset"

Hardly. Years ago, NTSB and FAA identified arrogant individuals who won't listen to others as a serious threat to aviation safety, and training programs in Crew Resource Management have been implemented to emphasize the importance of encouraging others to speak up and then actually listening to them--say, the copilot who suggest that your airspeed is a little too fast for that icy runway and that it might be a good idea to go around and try again. Very much like the importance of having the implementers of the Obamaweb site speak up about the performance and security problems, and then listening to them.

Obama's arrogance would have been as dangerous in aviation as it is in government, although the scope of the harm he could do would have been more limited.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, David, for the good observation. Purdum was being a bit too glib.