He gets, the peckish Obama assures the puckish Stephanopoulos, the message. Namely, the voters of Massachusetts elected Brown in protest over the last eight years. Huh?
This morsel of insight was part of a smorgasbord offered for our consumption to mark the first anniversary of the inauguration. It is a tradition in reportage to commemorate the passage of each year of a President's term with a wide-ranging examination of its events and achievements. When this can be rolled into an actual interview the network or magazine scores a huge scoop.
For the President this represents a unique opportunity. On the eve of the State of the Union, he can fashion a new beginning, a new direction. He can fold the disappointments of the past into the fresh face of the year, the years, ahead. With a frank admission of shortcoming, forgiveness can be attained almost instantly, the viewing populace easily encouraged to pour new hope into an existing investment. Come clean and you can clean up.
Instead Mister Obama has taken the route of the 1970s confession. This is a technique ubiquitous in that decade but since discredited. The idea is to seem like you are admitting fault humbly while actually ambushing your enemy. Every time you turned on a talk show like Johnny Carson or Merv Griffin in those days you would hear celebrities and politicians saying something like the following. "Oh, the divorce was definitely my fault for not realizing she was much too immature to be married." "I made the mistake of being too trusting of a man incapable of honesty." "This was all caused by my naïveté in thinking a person like that could change."
This was once thought to be an artful win-win, faux humility and a sneak attack, but became recognized as too weasely. Our President has revived it by suggesting his only flaw lies in not immediately realizing the extent of the mess bequeathed him by his predecessor.
True, a few weeks ago he channeled Truman in saying the buck stops here concerning homeland security. But he set it up in future tense, implying the breach allowing into Detroit the Breeches Bomber was based on old breaches; from here on out we could hold him accountable. So he got to look responsible without owning up to existing failure.
Just one year ago Obama was portrayed to be a figure of Biblical proportions. Now it seems his only path to wisdom is through burning Bush. If he cannot lay claim he must lay blame. Instead of rising on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things, as Tennyson recommends, he stones and steps on his dead opponent for lowering things. He tellingly chided Republicans in a recent fundraiser: "I'm in here with a broom cleaning up your mess. Don't come to complain I'm not sweeping fast enough." (Unfortunately, he no longer has Anita Dunn, so he cannot say "Anita Dunn and Anita Dunn right now.")
All this fills me with nostalgia for leaders of yore. Men of dignity who, having once made the grade, ceased to degrade their predecessors. Indeed it was just eight years ago that President George W. Bush welcomed the Clintons to the White House for the dedication of the Clinton portrait. There he spoke glowingly of the man inside the frame, applauding him for having mined high achievement from humble beginnings. This is how people of class operate. A good leader wears a white hat and stands tall; he does not wear a yellow hat and blame everything curious on George.
If Barack Obama is to resurrect his Presidency he must engage in reflection rather than deflection. After all, had this year been one of plenty for the nation, with jobs and optimism burgeoning galore, the credit would not have accrued to the custodians of the previous eight years. Assuredly the accolades would have flowed his way, and they would have met with a warm reception. When instead the indicators face downward, a man of character must face up.
In any case, Year Two is officially underway. MMX has no vowels of its own but Obama has plenty to spare. If his agenda pays off for the country in economics, education and employment, folks like myself will be unmasked as myopic pessimists. If the opposite occurs, all this wiggling and wriggling will be over. We will know exactly on whose door to knock in 2012, demanding he come out in the name of the law.
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