It’s been a tough year for the self-unemployed. I am one of them — one of the millions of free-lance writers and artists. A few days ago, I had a brainstorm: I would give the gift of gab to corporate executives who are worried about their year-end performance reviews. Most salary-men (and women) hate the task of having to evaluate their own performance. Aren’t we all taught as children not to go around telling everybody how great we think we are?
So I placed an ad in the New York Times which said:
Are you trying to climb the corporate ladder? Don’t make the same mistake that most of your colleagues do in writing their own performance assessments without professional help. With my help you will have a self-appraisal that shines like a mackerel in the moonlight. But it won’t stink. I write for leading magazines and newspapers, and I have done time in a corporate lockup that is just like the one that you inhabit. Trust me. I can help you on your most important writing assignment of the year.
Probably I italicized too many words there. It’s a habit I can’t seem to break. But at least I avoided the most common error in writing ad copy: I didn’t throw in too many exclamation points!!! For a cost of just $242, my ad ran the entire week of Dec. 6. By the end of the week, I had no fewer than eight calls from needy and nervous corporate executives.
I could see my little investment was going to pay off handsomely. Then things got really interesting. I got a call from the White House.
“This is Trevor Goodchild from the White House Office of Communications,” a voice said. “Is this the Andrew Wilson who placed the ad in the New York Times offering help on self-appraisals?”
“Please hold for Mr. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary. You will be his next call. He will be with you in two or three minutes.”
This gave me a chance to collect my thoughts. I could guess why Gibbs wanted my help. It seemed obvious. Like most of the corporate execs who called, he was worried about some of the stupid things he had said — only in Gibbs’ case, his gaffes became national news. Just the other day, he had laughed off the dumping of hundreds of thousands of highly-classified U.S. embassy cables into the public domain as a matter of no importance. He said of Wikileaks, “Our country is stronger than one guy with one website.… We should never be afraid of one guy who plopped down $35 and bought a web address. Our foreign policy is stronger than that. We’re not afraid of one guy with a keyboard and a laptop.”
Like hell we don’t care about “one guy with a website” who might tap into DOD’s computers and then decide he might just want to unloose the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal. Truly, a scary thought. Even so, if this were the only problem, I knew I could help Mr. Gibbs with his performance review. I will tell you what I was going to tell him. Here’s the secret. When you are doing your self-appraisal, you may own up to some bone-head mistakes, but you do so in a way that lets the boss know that he is not infallible either.
Then Gibbs came on the line.
“Hello, this is Robert Gibbs. Am I speaking to Andrew Wilson?”
“Good. I liked your ad and hope we can work together. May I call you Andy?”
“Please do. Hope you don’t mind if I call you Gibby. My favorite pitcher went by that nickname. And you and he have the same first name. Bullet Bob, they called him. Now listen, Gibby, you aren’t the first guy who’s tripped over his tongue. You know the old Japanese proverb — All trouble comes from the mouth. If this is about Wikileaks and some of the dumber things that you have said over the past year, you’ve come to the right place. I can help you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!? This has got nothing to do with Wikileaks and that goddamned a—h— Julian Assange!!!”
Hey, I guessed wrong. Despite the bumpy start to our conversation, Gibbs thought I was cut out for handling an even bigger assignment than the one that I had imagined. He wanted me to ghost-write President Obama‘s self-appraisal for the Oprah Winfrey Show. Now it was my turn to be incredulous.
“Let me see if I understand this,” I said. “The president thinks that he reports to Oprah Winfrey, and you want me to write a self-appraisal that he turns in on her show? I find that pretty hard to believe. Why don’t you just have the president’s speechwriters draft his remarks?”
“Well, we’ve got a little problem there,” Gibbs conceded. I waited for him to continue. After a long pause, he did.
“This is one time I really want an outside writer. We — and I mean all of us who work for him — have a credibility problem with the president. Perhaps you saw what the president said in the 2008 New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza. He said, and these are his exact words, ‘I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.’ Now that was back when everything was going great. Think of what he’s like now — given the shellacking that we took on Nov. 2. Now he thinks his top advisers and writers are a bunch of absolute idiots.”
“I see. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to get our guy ready for Oprah Winfrey next week. When he went on Oprah at this time last year, he awarded himself a ‘good, solid B-plus’ for his first year in office. He gave himself credit for getting the economy on track, winding down the Iraq war, making the right call for a temporary surge in Afghanistan, and pushing ahead with Obamacare. Next week, the first thing that Oprah is going to ask is how he scores his performance for the second year of his presidency. You know, a lot has happened in the last year…”
“And none of it has been good from your perspective,” I said, sparing him the need to go into all the painful details of the dizzying descent of this presidency into ever-increasing unpopularity and irrelevance, as problems have mounted on every front… and as the president himself has seemed resolutely arrogant — and totally clueless.
Still, I tried to be helpful.
“May I ask a question?”
“Is the president prepared to admit that he has made any mistakes, and I mean any mistakes other than spending too much time on policy and substance and not enough time communications and politics?”
“No, we won’t want to do that.”
“And he won’t admit that the clear majority of the American people want nothing to do with Obamacare, cap-and-trade, stimulus and bigger and more intrusive government?”
“He still feels he is the Chosen One?”
“Then, I’m afraid I can’t help you. Nothing I can say will make any difference. This is a president who reports only to himself. He is totally solipsistic. A prisoner of self.”
“What’s that you’re saying?”
Check your local listings if you want to see an unscripted Barack Obama on Oprah later this week.