Commentary Magazine


Obama Isn’t Very Persuasive, Is He?

Conservatives rolled their eyes during the 2008 campaign when Obama spoke about stopping the rise of the oceans, went to Berlin to declare that this is “our moment,” and told swooning fans that they were the ones they had been waiting for. It was all gobbledygook, without content — the stuff you’d expect from an Ivy League student who’d been praised all his life for “eloquence” (before that was considered a racist term) and groomed for political success. Conservatives were mystified as to how he sustained the image of a persuasive orator.

It turns out the skeptics were right. As president, Obama hasn’t convinced Americans of much of anything, other than that ObamaCare and the criminal-justice model for fighting terrorism are bad ideas. His BP press conference was no different. Craig Crawford, not a conservative booster, wrote:

A defensive, un-authoritative, and equivocal Barack Obama did nothing today to show he’s in charge of our biggest oil spill in history. … Today’s press conference — his first since July — was a time for the President to demonstrate he is on top of the crisis. Despite repeated assertions of control, Obama’s awkward demeanor suggested just the opposite. He came across as a beleaguered bureaucrat on damage control.

Perhaps the most stunning missed opportunity to show some authority was his non-answer to a question about whether US Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum was fired. “I found out about her resignation today,” he obliquely said. … Obama’s detachment was indicative of the impression he has allowed of a president on the sidelines.

It is not a new phenomenon. Obama has been complaining about challenges that face him, shifting blame to his predecessor, and delegating much of his job to Congress since he took office. He isn’t much of a take-charge president. Long before BP’s well started to gush, a sharp-eyed commentator spotted the problem at the one-year anniversary of his election, when he was again Bush-blaming:

We know this job is terribly hard: we have only to look at the graying of presidential heads over time-your own included-to get it. So? Time to stop acting like a hipster recoiling in offended disgust over someone else’s embarrassing blunders. Stop taking your orders on Iran from the U.N. Be manly and do your part with the minimum of accusation. All too soon all the blame will rest on your own elegant shoulders.

Perhaps it has finally landed there. Alas, Obama is proving unable to shoulder it — or to inspire confidence among the voters (and even the media, which carried him into office). He’s run out of people to blame, always bad news for a not-very-competent politician with a grandiose self-image.