As we close in on Election Day, the professional punditry is talking a lot about President Obama. They are arguing about whether it was smart for him to appear on The Daily Show, where he was called “dude” and his administration was the butt of gibes by Jon Stewart. (Stewart’s reference to the President as “dude” made me laugh and think of Richard’s classic post, The Follies of Dudism.) They are speculating about whether he will “pivot” or “triangulate” or pull a Bill Clinton if the Republicans take over the House of Representatives. They are questioning whether the President has lost the communications war and failed to explain the many “accomplishments” of his Administration to the American people. John Kerry, for example, apparently thinks the American people are becoming a bunch of ignorant “know-nothings.”
Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday is along such lines. She is starting to question the President and wondering when he is going to show the political deftness and communications skills he was hailed for in 2008. You can see that some skepticism is beginning to creep in — she notes, for example, that the President will need to summon “political skills that he has not yet shown he has” — but she still speaks of the mysterious failure to convince the public of his “achievements.” She suggests that he hasn’t used his “charm” as effectively as he could have and didn’t realize he needed to “sell” his ideas or respond to attacks, all of which has caused people to rush into the arms of “disturbingly inferior pols.”
I don’t remember President Obama being shy about talking to us about why he believed that the “health care reform” legislation was great, or how the “stimulus” legislation would be an engine for job creation, or why we needed to bail out GM and Chrysler and shield them from the consequences of decades of crappy products and poor business decisions. I think there is a simpler explanation for the President’s current predicament: the American people do understand what he has done and don’t really consider most of it to be an “achievement.” And at some point, the punditry may come to recognize that, perhaps, President Obama is not quite the infinitely charming, brilliant, awesomely superior politician they still consider him to be. They may look at his actual political record and realize that no master politician would have managed to take a sweeping electoral victory, huge majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the legitimate good wishes of a large majority of the American people and in two short years fritter it away to the point where the President’s party is on the brink of absorbing an historic defeat at the polls.
I think it will be good for both the President and the country when the public comes to realize that he is not some otherworldly figure. He will be able to serve in his office unburdened by unattainable expectations. The American people, on the other hand, will learn once again that we should not look to politicians for immediate salvation.