Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Blame Game

“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, speaking on background to Politico. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left. … And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”

Let’s see if we can follow the bouncing ball.

First, the White House blamed Obama’s predecessor and the Republicans for everything that is wrong with America, from unemployment to profligate spending to diaper rash. Last November, David Axelrod felt he had to remind people that the president is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” This past June, President Obama offered the American people this piercing insight: “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless.” And now, we are told by top Obama aides that they are frustrated because Obama isn’t getting his proper due. The problem doesn’t have to do with their policies, you see; it has to do with “the culture of immediate gratification.”

How difficult it must be for a demigod to be walking among mere mortals. And how frustrating it must be for Barack the Great to have done so many things so well, for the country to be prospering so much under his stewardship — and yet he doesn’t seem to get any credit for it. The world can be such a thankless and ungrateful place.

The truth is that this is all getting rather pathetic. The Democratic Party is heading for a historical repudiation in November. The White House and the Democrats on Capitol Hill are turning on each other. Obama’s press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, admits that there is “no doubt” the Republicans could regain control of the House, while former Clinton adviser William Galston is predicting that the Democrats may well lose the Senate. “If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” said Galston.

What we are seeing is a president and a White House of unusual — and very nearly otherworldly — hubris being beaten down by events. Reality is slowly crushing the Obama presidency. Its policies are failing, its popularity is sinking, its excuses aren’t working, and its incompetence is showing. Yet the administration appears incapable of admitting – even to itself, even in quiet moments – that it has made mistakes, that it may be wrong, that it may be on the wrong track.

All of this, in turn, is creating considerable cognitive dissonance among Obama, his advisers, and many of his supporters. They cannot deny they are in trouble; but they continue to deny they are responsible for causing any of it. So the fault lies with Bush, or the Republicans, or the ridiculously high expectations of the public, or divisions within the Democratic Party, or with the “culture of immediate gratification.”

What President Obama desperately needs is someone with standing in his life to intervene – to say to him that the fault, dear Barack, lies not with our stars but rather with yourself and with your policies.

I rather doubt this will happen; and even if it did, I rather doubt Obama would accept any part of the critique. He is a man, after all, who sees himself as a world historical figure, as America’s philosopher-king, as Socrates on the Potomac. It is not simply that he doesn’t seem able to see his own flaws and shortcomings; it is as if he could not even process the possibility that they exist.

This is not going to end well.