In researching his new book, Ron Suskind interviewed President Obama earlier this year, during which Obama told Suskind:
The area in my presidency where I think my management and understanding of the presidency evolved most, and where I think we made the most mistakes, was less on the policy front and more on the communications front. I think one of the criticisms that is absolutely legitimate about my first two years was that I was very comfortable with a technocratic approach to government … a series of problems to be solved.… Carter, Clinton and I all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks. … I think that if you get too consumed with that you lose sight of the larger issue. … The reorganization that’s taken place here is one that is much more geared to those [leadership] functions.
Obama is once again falling into a trap of his own making, convincing himself his main problem lies not in his policy failure or his ideology (progressivism/liberalism), but in the realm of communications.
Obama’s presidency is failing because almost everything he has done has made things worse, not better. He combines very bad policies with rare incompetence – and the results are across-the-board failures. For the president to have convinced himself he could talk his way out of this mess demonstrates a notable degree of self-delusion.
There are two other things worth noting in what Obama said. The first is that he’s employing the old (and transparent) trick of criticizing himself by praising himself. The“disease” Obama suffers from, you see, is that he’s a “policy wonk.” The message the president is trying to send is he’s been too intellectual, too serious-minded, and too involved in mastering the depths of complicated policy issues; as a result, he just hasn’t paid enough attention to providing a “narrative” for his presidency. This is akin to the person who says his chief failure is that he hasn’t spent enough hosting Bible studies because he devotes a night a week to serving at the soup kitchen.
Finally, Obama might re-consider comparing himself to Jimmy Carter, who has (rightly) become a symbol of a failed president. Now, I happen to think the comparison to Carter is in many respects apt; but why Obama has decided to tether himself to Carter is an example of just how confused the president is these days. Can comparisons to James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson be far behind?