Commentary Magazine


“I Feel My Pain”

Obama’s rather atrocious performance yesterday got me thinking. Bill Clinton, when he was in office, was considered by his critics (and some of his admirers) to be among the most self-indulgent presidents in memory. His dalliance with an intern nearly brought down his presidency. He was in all respects — from food to incessant lateness to a phony tear at Ron Brown’s funeral –undisciplined and self-absorbed. But he can’t hold a candle to Obama.

Clinton at least understood the basic equation in politics: the elected pol demonstrates concern for the citizenry (“I feel your pain”) and in return gets the cheers and support of the voters. Obama feels his own pain. Or as he said yesterday about the Democratic losses, “I feel bad.” Excuse me, but why do we care? He has just — to pick up on his favorite car metaphor — wrecked the family vehicle. I don’t think that deserves our empathy. It didn’t just happen to him; he is the source of the political catastrophe that has descended upon the Democratic Party.

Obama, at minor and major points in his career, has made it all about himself. The cult of personality dominated his campaign. He turned on Rev. Wright when Wright questioned Obama’s sincerity. He based his foreign policy on the egocentric notion that his mere presence would change historic, substantive disputes between the parties (i.e., Israel wants peace and the Palestinians want no Israel) and transform a radical Islamic regime. He became offended when Daniel Ortega brought up America’s role in the Bay of the Pigs. (Obama declared he had an alibi — he was a child.) He has painted critics as enemies and refused to recognize the legitimate grievances of the electorate and his own party. The loss is a function of the voters’ ignorance and misperceptions; the solution is more Obama in the heartland. You see the pattern.

No one gets to the Oval Office being a shrinking violet. But there is ego and then there is ego. To be a successful president — frankly to be successful at anything — you need to have some appreciation of your own limitations and of your place in the grand scheme of things. Obama lacks both, and hence, the ability to self-reflect and correct course. His outward demeanor — first annoyed and now sullen — and his disinclination to address the root of his failings (i.e., an agenda at odds with the disposition of the electorate) do not bode well for an Obama comeback.