Commentary Magazine


The Price of Arrogance

Mark Halperin joins the chorus of those who found Obama dismissive and condescending toward the Republicans — to his own detriment. As Halperin observes, Obama is so convinced “he is right and they are wrong” that he cannot disguise his contempt. As a result, I would venture to say, there is not a single Republican who feels inclined, let alone obligated, to help Obama out of his dilemma, namely his inability to pass his signature agenda item.

Now we will put aside for a moment the question of why Obama has such an elevated sense of his own virtue and correctness (after all, he could give no response to Rep. Paul Ryan and could only offer a snotty comeback to John McCain’s critique of the backroom deals). But Obama has had this problem before. Recall the condescending performance in the New Hampshire Democratic primary? It might well have goosed up the sympathy factor for Hillary Clinton. Recall the “cling to guns or religion” comment during the campaign? Again, he can’t quite keep his contempt for his fellow citizens in check.

And this sense of superiority, which in turn has led him repeatedly to discount and ignore legitimate criticism, has proven to be his undoing. He and his equally arrogant advisers feigned ignorance about the tea party protests, wrote off the health-care town-hall attendees, sneered at Fox News, belittled the pollsters, and rolled their eyes at election returns in three states. No amount of adverse information — be it poll numbers or Ryan’s fiscal analysis — permeates the hermetically sealed bubble of hubris. Obama won, he keeps reminding us.

That’s not an attractive personality profile. And it’s a disaster in a president who must build support and alliances to achieve his objectives. He has proven exquisitely inept in governance and, to a large degree, the fault lies with his inability to cultivate a relationship of trust and afffection with voters or enlist wary skeptics. He has hardened and infuriated the opposition. And now, the reservoir of goodwill and trust which he enjoyed at the beginning of his term, is slowly running out.

In the weeks ahead he may wish he had not alienated so many. When, if the vote-counters are right, ObamaCare II comes up short, he will need to find an alternative game plan, a face saver, to prevent humiliation. And then he may wish that he had not been quite so dismissive of the Republicans, who proved themselves in a day-long summit, every bit his intellectual equals and, in a year, much more adept at rallying public opinion. Moreover, come November there will be many, many more of them and Obama will have to figure out how to make peace with those at whom he spent two years sneering.