On reading two recent pieces about Obama—this one by Jeff Shesol for The Daily Beast, and this by Jay Cost of HorseRaceBlog—I get the idea that both authors are still struggling to understand the guy and still not quite getting it.
That’s unsurprising. To a certain extent Obama is inscrutable, I believe purposely so. What’s more, IMHO, to understand him requires thinking outside the box. If a person approaches the task with the idea that Obama is just a politician, or in the mold of past presidents of this country (whether admired or detested), that person isn’t going to understand what’s actually happening here.
Cost writes about Obama’s vanity, and declares that it “makes him do silly things like appear on The View” and “strips him of a sense of self-awareness,” causing him to make obviously insincere statements like “We shouldn’t be campaigning all the time” during his stint in front of the show’s cameras.
Cost goes on:
Obama ran for and won [the Democratic] nomination based upon the claim that he could sell the party’s ideas to Americans who regularly hesitate to pull the lever for Democrats. He is failing to do that, and his vanity is one reason why…The party is going to need crafty, deft leadership if it hopes to avoid ceding further ground to the Republicans. I have my doubts that this President – overcome as he seems to be with self-adoration – can supply it.
Cost is right to doubt that Obama can supply that leadership to the party, but he’s wrong in thinking that it might be a priority of Obama’s to do so. And while I agree with Cost that Obama is vain, I disagree with the idea that it’s a garden-variety type of vanity that is an obstacle to Obama’s political success and could be overcome with more awareness on his part.
No. Obama’s vanity is more on the order of grandiosity of the type common to tyrants, a sense of his own power and superiority to all surrounding him. It makes him believe he has the right to jettison the usual checks and balances of government in his quest to have his way. And saying something as absurd as “we shouldn’t be campaigning all the time” in the face of the bald fact that he, almost more than any other president, has been in continual campaign mode since the day he was inaugurated is more in the nature of the Big Lie than anything else.
Obama lies with the smooth and unruffled mien of the con man. There is little reason for him to stop now, nor could he. Most of his life he has gotten away with lying and benefited from it. What’s more, if he abandoned lying, he would have almost nothing left except the truth about himself and his intentions—which he knows the American public would reject. So what else is he supposed to do?
Like Cost, Shesol also misses the mark. He thinks—along with Joy Behar on The View, Maureen Dowd in a recent column, and Bob Shrum—that Obama’s problem is that he’s “lost control of the narrative,” and needs “a compelling framework” to grab the nation’s attention.
Shesol is a former Clinton speechwriter, and an expert on the history of FDR’s term of office. He counsels Obama to take a leaf from the book of the latter and to present an animating vision that can speak to America and inspire it with renewed faith in him. What Shesol does not understand is that Obama is very far from being FDR or Clinton. One of his strongest characteristics—one that has often puzzled both left and right—is the fact that he ignores the wishes of the American people, something neither FDR nor Clinton would ever do.
What’s more, the public—or much of the public, anyway—has caught on to that fact. Obama sees the public as his enemy, a stumbling block that he needs to get around if he is ever to reach his goals. For Obama, the public is an entity to deceive and manipulate if possible, and he regards it contemptuously rather than respectfully. He no longer needs to inspire people. He just needs to exercise power over them.