I’ve developed an interest in President Obama’s speeches not because they are eloquent or uplifting — they are neither — but because of what they reveal about his emotional state of mind. And Mr. Obama’s remarks in Holland, Michigan yesterday are helpful in that respect.
After once again blaming the economic slowdown on (among other things) the Arab Spring and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Mr. Obama said this:
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in Washington the last few months has been the worst kind of partisanship, the worst kind of gridlock — and that gridlock has undermined public confidence and impeded our efforts to take the steps we need for our economy…. This downgrade you’ve been reading about could have been entirely avoided if there had been a willingness to compromise in Congress. See, it didn’t happen because we don’t have the capacity to pay our bills — it happened because Washington doesn’t have the capacity to come together and get things done. It was a self-inflicted wound. That’s why people are frustrated. Maybe you hear it in my voice — that’s why I’m frustrated. Because you deserve better. You guys deserve better.
Mr. Obama then added, “The only thing preventing these bills from being passed is the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party. There are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”
About these comments several things can be said, starting with this: There is something highly unusual in watching a president call attention to his own impotence. The president is declaring to the world that he is simply too weak to govern. Not only that, he wants all of America to know that he’s darn frustrated about it. You can even hear it in his voice. The president is frustrated that on his watch, and for the first time in history, America’s credit rating has been downgraded. He’s frustrated that the economy is getting worse rather than better. He’s frustrated taxes aren’t higher. He’s frustrated that his stewardship led to one of the worst mid-term election repudiations in history. And he’s frustrated that he’s overseeing what many people worry is the decline of the American empire.
The president, who is essentially admitting that he is unable to do anything about this, wants to make sure the country is keenly aware of the state of his emotions, the depth of his frustrations, the deep pain caused by his ineptness. But my guess is that the public isn’t particularly interested in Mr. Obama’s emotional exhibitionism. They care about jobs and growth; they don’t want to hear excuses or complaints, especially since Mr. Obama’s chief selling point in 2008 was that he alone would bring an end to partisanship and gridlock.
As for the president’s claim that some folks in Congress refuse to “put the country ahead of party” and that they would “rather see their opponents lose than see America win”: this repeats a nasty little Obama habit, which is not simply to disagree with his opponents but to impugn their character. The Tea Party and Republican Members of Congress can’t possibly believe that the federal government is too large, spending needs to be reduced, and taxes shouldn’t be raised. And they certainly can’t believe that the philosophy they hold and the policies they embrace are in the best interest of America. It’s easier to assume they are knaves and traitors to their country.
If there’s anything we have learned about Mr. Obama during the last two-and-a-half years, it is his obsessive need to advertise his moral superiority. He wants us to believe – he is desperate for us to believe – that his motivations are pure, that he is the only adult in Washington, that he is a champion for the national interest while his critics are champions of special interests. It is not enough for Obama to be president; he wants us to believe he’s Sir Galahad.
As Mr. Obama is increasingly overwhelmed by events, as he and his presidency shrink before our eyes, his worst tendencies are being exacerbated, his narcissism further exposed, his anger at an unaccommodating world more pronounced. A man of supreme self-regard is watching things crumble before his eyes. He is obviously not well equipped to process any of this. It is enough for one to feel, if only for a moment, some pity for Mr. Obama. These are not easy days for him, and certainly not for his country.