I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.
I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.
As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.
The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.