Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Barack Obama vs. Chris Christie

Last night Bernard Goldberg explained that Barack Obama is a media creation. In many ways Obama was a blank slate, a candidate without an experience or a real record, on which the media could paint whatever picture it wanted.

Then all they had to do was to sell the image to America. In that they were successful.

Today, of course, many of those same creative spirits are in very high dudgeon over the fact that Obama has negotiated a deal with Republicans over taxes.

They cannot understand how their creation could have broken away from his handlers. Instead of following the dictates of Paul Krugman and Bill Maher, Obama seems to have come to terms with political reality and the will of the American people.

While some people are railing against Obama’s pragmatism, others are beginning to understand that the image they created is at odds with reality. The character they created is not the man who is currently sitting in the White House.

In truth, many of those who created the image of Obama never bothered to ask themselves about the man, himself. They reveled in the fact that he was a blank slate on which they could project whatever they wanted to sell.

Call it a wake-up moment or even an epiphany, but it is striking to read Elizabeth Drew’s account of how her illusion of Obama was shattered. Link here.

Writing about Osama’s “pathetic“ post-election news conference last month, Drew said: “In these comments, Obama gave away the devastating fact that he didn’t really understand the role of the president as leader.”

Not exactly a minor detail. Commenting on the poor messaging that the new great communicator was showing, Drew remarked, tartly: “Those who supported Obama in 2008 expected him to be able to move public opinion, to get people to follow him. The fact that the Obama White House has been so poor at 'messaging' baffles even his strongest supporters. In fact, he had no overall message. As Winston Churchill put it, there was no theme to his pudding.”

So much for expectations.

At the risk of being repetitious, I would ask again, how such brilliant political analysts-- and Elizabeth Drew is hardly alone in the camp-- could have missed the obvious: Obama’s is great at communicating bromides and platitudes, words that might inspire a church congregation.

Since a president, as opposed to a pastor, sees his words subjected to daily reality checks, his empty rhetoric is eventually going to seem like… empty rhetoric.

Something similar is happening in the mind of Frank Rich.

Rich is surely one of the creative genies who are responsible for Barack Obama. As a recycled drama critic, he must feel that he has moved  from criticizing other people’s dramas to creating one of his own… on the world stage.

The old Obama narrative, which carried the image, saw the Savior come to Earth to save the Republic from Republicans.

Apparently, the story no longer inspires adherence, so Rich is at the ready with a new narrative.

His latest: Obama has been captured and is being held hostage by Republicans. Like Patty Hearst, Obama is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, where a hostage comes to sympathize with his captors. Link here.

Only a Frank Rich would be so offended that his own creation would defy his will that he would fail to see that Obama is merely trying to comply with the will of the American people.

Imagine a president trying, for the first time, to accommodate the will of the American people over the views of the New York Times. The affront, the offense is so grave that you can only batten down the hatches while waiting for Paul Krugman’s next rhetorical hurricane.

And yet, as you read Rich’s column you can see a glimmer of light breaking through the darkness of his mind.

Frank seems also to have had his own epiphany, and has grasped one of Obama’s basic problems.

Again, this should not be news. It is not news to regular readers of this blog.

Here is Obama’s problem, in Rich‘s words: “But the real problem is that he’s so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the ‘good side‘ of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL. A Rorschach test may make for a fine presidential candidate — when everyone projects their hopes on the guy. But it doesn’t work in the Oval Office: These days everyone is projecting their fears on Obama instead.”

If Obama had not been a blank slate, or Rorschach test, then people like Frank Rich could not have created him as they wished. He is a weightless leader because he has always been weightless. That was why Frank Rich liked him in the first place.

It is worth mentioning that it is profoundly disrespectful of Barack Obama, the man, to take him as a blank slate on which you can project whatever you want. And it is even more disrespectful to complain if he does not conform to the image.

When the light illuminates hidden recesses of the mind of Frank Rich, strange things happen. Rich has now found a political figure who is the real thing, who knows how to exercise leadership.

If you have been gulled into accepting an image for reality, you can be awakened from your torpor by seeing the real thing.

No, it is not Sarah Palin. It is, you might have guessed, New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie.

How does Rich see Christie’s leadership: “But the core of Christie’s appeal at home is that he explains passionately held views in concrete, plain-spoken detail. Voters know what he stands for and sometimes respect him for his forthrightness even when they reject the stands themselves. This extends to his signature issue — his fiscal and rhetorical blows against public education. He’s New Jersey’s most popular statewide politician despite the fact that a 59 percent majority in the state thinks public schools deserve more taxpayer money, not less.”

Ignore the fact that Frank Rich will never ever vote for a Chris Christie.

Accept that Rich has learned something. Great leaders are who they are. They are not chameleons changing their appearance to avoid danger. They do not allow you to project your hopes on them. They believe what they believe, and you know what they believe. You may accept or reject their policies or their candidacies, but you know what you are being treated with respect. No one is trying to trick you with an optical illusion.

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