In a Newsweek cover story — half cheerleading and half-denial — Jonathan Alter lauds the president’s ability to provide the confidence and vision needed to lift us out of the recession. “The president is well poised to bring us back from the brink,” he pronounces. It is not the policies that Alter focuses upon, but Obama’s supposed ability to provide psychological solace to us.
What is missing is any examination of the president’s actual rhetoric, which has ranged from cautious to morose, or any acknowledgment of the widespread criticism that he has been unduly gloomy. Alter blithely skips over the careening stock market and the crash of bank stocks — both resulting in large part from a lack of confidence. Instead we get Alter’s personal affirmation, based on four years of talking to Obama and his team, that Obama:
has a firm grasp of the psychological and substantive challenges of the presidency. Equally important, his 2008 campaign proved that he possesses a superior sense of timing. He knows that now is not the moment to cheerlead, not when the financial players are lying dazed on the field. There will be time for that, when the banks have been “restructured” (see, that sounds better than “nationalized”) and the credit starts flowing again.
The psychodynamics of the recession aren’t hard to fathom. The people need a vision. They need to see that the president is on their side (which is why he now spends a day a week on the road). And like seriously ill patients, they need a clear yet flexible action plan that takes them beyond blind optimism to well-founded hope.
The critical element, of course, is confidence. Leadership in war is mostly about concrete tactical and strategic decisions. Leadership in a peacetime crisis also involves making the right calls on policy—but at bottom, it’s dependent on a subtle understanding of how to make people feel better so that they invest in the future.
This is personal testimony, a sort of political infomercial. Missing are any facts — excerpts from speeches, market reaction to presidential verbiage, or comments from supporters, elected officials, voter or critics which would examine whether Obama is indeed fulfilling expectations as “shrink in chief.” As such, the piece has an unreality about it — as if Alter were talking about what he wishes would occur rather than any recognition of what has or is transpiring beyond Alter’s own keyboard.
There is a reason perhaps why Newsweek’s readership is sinking like a stone. Its “news” is nothing but the hopeful ruminations of its Obama-cheering columnists.