His signature health care plan is self-deconstructing, his party is preparing to lose control of the Senate, his foreign policy is more of a shambles than the healthcare program… so President Obama decided that it was time for a little comic relief.
Demagoguing the Bush administration and the Tea party is no longer working, so President Obama decided to reach out to his base by appearing on a show called Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.
There he got to answer the question that no one dares ask him: “… how does it feel to be the last black president.”
Ostensibly, Obama was trying to incite his base of restless and disaffected youth to sign up for Obamacare. Apparently, he does not believe that he can reach young people by offering a cogent argument. To me, that feels like condescension. One wonders how well that is working out.
Kathleen Parker wraps her mind around it and decides that it was really a masterstroke:
Obama’s appearance on an absurd Web program that celebrates the absurd was a masterful, strategic move aimed squarely at Putin. How better to insult a shirtless, pec-flexing thug than to engage in a theater of the absurd? How better to display maximum disrespect toward a man with a child’s ego and a nuclear arsenal — who has invaded another country where peaceful demonstrators were gunned down — than by acting as though he hasn’t a care in the world?
I hope that Parker does not really mean what she is saying, but I am not sure. She is suggesting that Obama is really showing disrespect for the Russian strongman. Russia appropriates the Crimea; Obama shows that he can laugh at himself.
In the world of diplomacy it doesn’t matter what you think you are doing. What matters is how others read you and how they subsequently behave.
If Obama was trying to ridicule Vladimir Putin and reverse his invasion of the Crimea, it does not seem to be working.
While John Kerry is out there making threats that aren’t really threats, what makes you think that Vladimir Putin, or anyone else will take America’s word seriously when its president looks like he doesn't really care?
Jonathan Chait has also rushed in to rescue President Obama. Noting the outcry about how Obama has diminished the dignity of the American presidency, Chait offers this defense, in a sentence, it is fair to note, that is rather poorly written:
The idea that it is important to safeguard the dignity of the presidency is one of those ideas, like “reducing deficits is always good,” that’s shared so widely within official Washington that it is considered a bland truism rather than a point of view.
Since we have no problem with a president delivering a series of one-liners at a press dinner, why do we have a problem with the president doing an Abbott and Costello routine?
Chait would have done well to read one of my previous posts on the topic… link here.
But, Chait does make a fair point. How many of us really understand why the dignity of the office matters at all? It is true that we toss around the term, as though it was a “truism” without knowing what it really means.
Michael Auslin explains why he found it all rather discomfiting:
It’s easy to be churlish and to reflexively criticize Obama for everything he does, but while his national security officials are impotently complaining about Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and while his Secretary of Health and Human Services can’t (or refuses to) answer the most basic of Congressional questions about the on-going healthcare debacle (to list just two issues of rather large concern), the President feels its appropriate to show the world he is shopping for sweaters for his girls or to welcome a boy band singer with no expertise whatsoever to the White House to talk about healthcare?
And yet, Auslin continues, Barack Obama was elected because he was a celebrity, because he could entertain. By offering bread and circuses, food stamps and comedy… he was doing what he was elected to do.
… it was his political celebrity status that got Barack Obama elected in the first place, a politician of the very thinnest of resumes, whose new-age blather caused vapors in a press that was itself as filled with celebrity worshipers as the viewers they seek. There’s no reason to re-litigate two elections, but the track record of this White House can only give credence to the judgments of so many who feared a popularity-driven candidate with no experience and who was so clearly hiding an ideological streak at odds with the majority of his fellow citizens. Yet none of that mattered next to the dancing and the star-studded endorsements and the coolness factor.
Auslin is correct. With Obama what matters is his coolness. When all else fails he always has cool.
But, isn’t there something wrong with judging our leaders by their cool, by their ability to pretend to be less than they are?
You might see it as a sign of strength, but what happens when adversaries see it as a sign of weakness and act accordingly.
Also, it might sound like yet another cliché, but leadership, in any enterprise, means setting an example. A leader sets a standard of decorum, propriety, self-discipline, dedication, respectability and perseverance.
If he is dedicated to his job and shows the right character traits, his staff is more likely to the same. If he slacks off, showing that he cares more for himself than for his job, his staff is likely to do the same.
Leadership by example is generally believed to be more effective than leadership by barking orders.
People tend to emulate their betters. It is one of the most important paths to self-improvement.
A parent who sets a good example as a responsible member of a community is more likely to have children who aspire to be the same. A parent who acts like an overgrown youngster will have children who dread getting older, who will do everything in their power to hold on to their fading youth.
A parent’s words are respected because he has more wisdom and experience. But this is only true if he manifests it in his appearance and demeanor.
If a parent acts like a child’s peer, his child will no more feel obliged to follow his counsel than he would the counsel of one of his peers.