Beginning To Question The Dude

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.

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Not About Race

I don’t usually read Maureen Dowd’s columns, but I happened to stumble across this one. Her thesis is that a significant part of the opposition to President Obama’s health care reform proposals and some of his other initiatives is based on his race. She intimates that the stupid and juvenile “You lie” outburst from South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson during the President’s recent speech on health care has some racial component. New York Times op-ed columnists apparently have a supernatural ability to read the depths of a person’s soul and determine whether his actions are motivated by race. I don’t claim to have supernatural powers, and I don’t doubt that there are still benighted, abject racists in American society. I don’t sense, however, that race has anything to do with why many people are concerned about some of President Obama’s proposals.

The fact is that President Obama’s campaign for the presidency promised change, and he is now, by his own admission, trying to bring about very significant changes to American society. It is not at all surprising that the President’s efforts to fundamentally change how Americans get and pay for health care have attracted attention and opposition, because those efforts target an area that poses highly personal issues of choice and control. People who oppose the President’s proposed reforms recognize that he means what he says; they oppose the changes he is pursuing because they recognize that the changes are significant and they are concerned about how those change could affect them. Suggesting that President Obama’s proposals are minor and uncontroversial — and therefore that the only reason people could have for opposing the proposals must be racism — does a disservice both to those who oppose his policies for legitimate reasons and to the magnitude of President Obama’s proposals.

President Obama seems perfectly willing to engage in the war of ideas about health care reform and to advocate for his proposals on their merits. Those of his defenders who, like Maureen Dowd, contend that his opponents must be reacting to President Obama’s race are cheapening and undercutting the President’s efforts. President Obama does not need their paternalism.