Commentary Magazine


All That In Fifteen Months?

In the joint interview with her husband on the Today show on Thursday, Michelle Obama had this to say:

The fundamental changes that he has made in just 15 months in the way people see themselves, the way people see their futures, the way young people are looking at their possibilities, the way we’re talking about politics, even though we slip sometimes and we still get pulled down into the old ways of playing the political game — changes have happened. And it makes every challenge, every frustration, worth it.

I must say, even for the Obamas, the arrogance is quite striking. Has his mere presence on the scene transformed the way people “see themselves”? Tony Robbins doesn’t get results like this. I haven’t noticed school achievement records soaring, divorces plummeting, addiction rates declining, teen pregnancy and drop-out rates abating, crime disappearing, or any other sign that we have transformed our culture or ourselves through the experience of Obamamania. We’ve seen a lot of enthusiastic young people at rallies and some impressive voter registration numbers, but let’s be honest: that’s not much in the grand scheme of things.

This type of talk suggests several things: the predilection to mistake feelings for concrete accomplishment, an absurd faith in the ability of untested political figures to effect serious social and personal change in a large, diverse population, and a jaw-dropping arrogance about Obama’s “accomplishments.” Heck, if you believe Michelle, he’s already done more than many two-term Presidents.

But aren’t all politicians allowed a little hyperbolic? Yes. But from the viewpoint of someone who’s never been proud of her country before now, this suggests that she, and likely he, actually buy into this notion of Obama’s greatness. That’s a remarkable (and perhaps troubling) dose of self-regard for a potential future President. And perhaps if they sounded less grandiose, they would not have the problem of debunking a “caricature” of themselves they don’t recognize.