Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Case of the Vanishing President

As one international crisis follows fast upon the other, more and more people are asking: Where’s Obama?

Perhaps those who voted for Barack Obama should apologize for having been so thoroughly duped. How did they ever imagine that an untested, inexperienced politician could magically transform himself into the leader of the free world?

As of today, Barack is adding new chapters to his textbook about how not to lead.

A leader must grasp the mood of the nation. If there is a crisis, he should acknowledge it in his behavior as well as in his speeches.

If bad things are happening to his people, he should not be out partying. It is unseemly, an embarrassment to himself and the nation. And it tells the people that he is not living in the real world.

And it is very bad PR. And if a leader gets the PR wrong, if he projects the wrong appearance, he is in trouble.

John Podhoretz captured the moment this morning: “Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read My Pet Goat for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck.

“We’re going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.” Link here.

Leaders set an example. Leaders know that the nation’s people will be inclined to follow their example. The nation’s people will estimate the gravity of the crisis by the leader’s actions. Thus, they will be prepared to band together to deal with the crisis when the leader takes action.

Obama is not merely telling the world that he is not up to his job. He is pretending that there is no crisis, that nothing especially significant has happened, and therefore, that he does not need to do anything to deal with it.

Keith Koffler sums it up well on his blog: “The Middle East is afire with rebellion, Japan is imploding from an earthquake, and the battle of the budget is on in the United States, but none of this seems to be deterring President Obama from a heavy schedule of childish distractions.

“The newly installed tandem of White House Chief of Staff William Daley and Senior Adviser David Plouffe were supposed to impart a new sense of discipline and purpose to the White House. Instead, they are permitting him to showcase himself as a poorly focused leader who has his priorities backward.

“This morning, as Japan’s nuclear crisis enters a potentially catastrophic phase, we are told that Obama is videotaping his NCAA tournament picks and that we’ll be able to tune into ESPN Wednesday to find out who he likes.

“Saturday, he made his 61st outing to the golf course as president, and got back to the White House with just enough time for a quick shower before heading out to party with Washington’s elite journalists at the annual Gridiron Dinner.

“With various urgencies swirling about him, Saturday’s weekly videotaped presidential address focusing on “Women’s History Month” seemed bizarrely out of touch.

“Obama Friday took time out to honor the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Thursday was a White House conference on bullying – not a bad idea perhaps, but not quite Leader of the Free World stuff either.” Link here.

I would take minor exception to Koffler’s remarks. The fault does not lie with the advisers. The fault lies with Obama himself. Increasingly, he is showing himself to be inadequate to the trust conferred on him by the American people.

It feels as though Obama does not know who he is or what his job is. He not acting like the President of the United States. He is acting like the president of Argentina.

Obama seems to have grasped that he cannot do the job. Now he is not even pretending; he has given up trying.

As John Podhoretz wrote today, Obama’s presidency is hanging by a thread. .

In his words: “Obama’s defiant unwillingness to take the measure of the world’s multiple crises and to act as a world leader in response to them in the eyes of the public indicates a fundamental disconnect in the Oval Office.”

Note well the italicized phrase: what matters is how it looks to the public.

Podhoretz suggests that Obama should take action. Surely, he is right.

Unfortunately, taking action means accepting responsibility, and Obama has no real capacity for taking responsibility for anything.

You recall the many times that Obama blamed the financial crisis on the Bush administration. Now we know that a leader who cannot take responsibility cannot take action when action is called for.

If human contentment derives from the ability to find a purpose, set a goal, take an action, and accept the consequences, then Obama is morally immiserating the nation.

An insouciant, fun-loving leader is going to undermine moral character because everyone will read him as saying that the only thing anyone can do when faced with a crisis, except to have a little fun.

When people feel that there is nothing they can do when faced with a crisis, they will become demoralized and depressed.

To conquer demoralization you need to understand the nature of the crisis and to take action. It may be that there is no very good action to take. That does not matter; you still need to do something. Failing to act engenders a feeling of powerlessness that aggravates the depression.


Dennis said...

There used to be a political advertisement with an older woman asking, "Where's the beef?" One could almost sum up Obama's presidency as, "Where's Obama?"
I had begun to think of Obama as Present Obama, but that does no even define him or his administration and is being far too kind. One would expect him at least to show up for actions that require more that giving out awards, making sport's picks, going to parties or campaigning.
That maybe what he meant by fundamentally transforming America into a place that requires a leader who has no significant responsibilities and lacks the capacity to succeed in the world. If you ruin the economy, makes us a third world country and do everything possible to degrade what it means to be an American then there isn't much left to make decisions about.
I never thought I would find myself thinking Jimmy Carter was a good president.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Tell What You Know...

....about 'horizontal flight'.



The Ghost said...

we are being led by Presentdent Obama ...

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Very nice, ghost... I like Presentdent...

Retriever said...

"He is not acting like the President of the United States. He is acting like the president of Argentina."

Heheh. First laugh I've had all day, Stuart. But please don't insult the Argentine people...(I lived in Argentina two years as a kid...not that I have any love for the murderous fascist dictators back then).

The guy's frivolity makes me FURIOUS.

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Frivolity?

It's NOT 'frivolity'. Rather it looks more like 'horizontal flight'.

Horizontal Flight

Horizontal flight is the tendency to retreat into an idea or strategy that is safe when everything around the person is going to hell.

Bryukhanov [Director of the Chernobyl facility] showed horizontal flight by his absolute refusal to believe that the reactor had exploded, even when he was being told by his own staff. Dyatlov [Chief Operator on Duty] showed horizontal flight by believing that he could do anything to the reactor and still be safe. The Soviet bureaucracy showed horizontal flight in their failure to act quickly.

Again, this is a common response to difficult problems. At the end of World War II, Joseph Goebbels was designing new medals for the soldiers--only a few days before the end of the Third Reich. When situations become intolerable, we frequently move into areas where we have control--whether or not it makes sense.


P.S. I'm being 'generous' in that post.

Anonymous said...

P.P.S. Obama goes for the 'hoops' or plays 'golf' to get away from a crisis.

flynful said...

I beg to differ with the point of this article. Where's Obama? Unlike Where's Elmo, where the idea is to find the guy hidden in a mass of people, with Obama the idea is to keep him lost.

Given the choice of Obama doing something and Obama doing nothing I prefer his doing nothing. At least he won't decide in his own way to make a bad situation infinitely worse. His decision making skills are uniquely his own and are always so bizarre as to leave us in a constant state of disbelief.

So, who cares if he is on the golf course. At least he is away from real trouble making for a few hours. I say he should be inducted into the PGA and made the next Haney Project.
Steve G

Stuart Schneiderman said...

That's an awfully bleak prospect... though I think your point is probably correct.

If the alternative is between Obama doing what he thinks best and doing nothing at all, then the latter seems best.

My only misgiving is that leaders who go AWOL on basic issues and who notice that it is negatively affecting their polls have a tendency to overcompensate by trying to do too much ... at the wrong time in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.

Therapy Culture said...

Not long ago Obama gave a televised speech acknowledging that people are frustrated and confused wrt the job market and economy and that they should be, because things are changing.

I think they are changing for the better but it will take some time for the better to manifest.

More and more people are dropping out and bartering, engaging in the gift economy, making their own money that depreciates over time so it has to be used or given away (a community in Germany is having success with this).

I think we are moving towards a resource based economy eventually or a system that has never been tried before - beyond capitalism and beyond communism.

Charles Eisenstein talks about all these things.

People are sick over how shallow and materialistic our society has become.

We've replaced relationship exchanges with "services" to be paid for.

Of course, Obama is a corporate puppet so I don't think he's going to usher in "the change" but I do think he's aware of the shift in consciousness.

The change will be ushered in by more and more ordinary citizens dropping out and doing what I wrote above.