Commentary Magazine


Humblebrag: Obama’s Mistake Was Being Too Good at Policy

The first time I watched this, I thought it was just Obama trying to fudge his way out of a difficult question, the way people tend to spin the “what’s your biggest weakness?” answer during job interviews. (Nobody’s buying that claim you’re “sometimes too much of a team player.”)

But after watching a second time, I’m now wondering whether Obama actually believes his own fables. His political team is notoriously insular, and the cult of personality surrounding him would tell him that his biggest problem is he just hasn’t explained his policies to the American people well enough, goshdarnit. The scary news is Obama may truly be as out-of-touch as he appears in this CBS News interview:

“When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well,” the president said, “the mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Mr. Obama acknowledged the dissonance between others’ perception of his strength as an expert orator, and his own.

“It’s funny – when I ran, everybody said, well he can give a good speech but can he actually manage the job?” he said. “And in my first two years, I think the notion was, ‘Well, he’s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where’s the story that tells us where he’s going?’ And I think that was a legitimate criticism.”

When did anybody ever criticize Obama for being a great policy wizard who just didn’t spend enough effort communicating his accomplishments to the American people? Can you name one serious pundit who has made this argument? (The White House cheering section at Think Progress and the New York Times editorial page don’t count.) If anything, Obama’s critics — the ones who rightly pointed out that cliche-riddled speeches don’t translate into good governance — have hammered him for a lack of leadership on policy issues. Even Obama’s legislative victories were based on policy drafted by congressional Democrats, not the White House. His budget plans have been voted down unanimously for the last two years by members of his own party in Congress.

And the notion that Obama hasn’t spent enough effort communicating his ideas to the American people is fantasy. This is a president who’s never missed an opportunity to give a speech. The problem is the lack of substance and follow-through. If this is really the Obama campaign’s assessment of its candidate’s weaknesses, then they have much bigger problems than previously thought.