Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Rolling Our Eyes at Obama

President Obama is now in Hawaii–but before he departed Washington he gifted us a 62-minute press conference.

In the past, I might have been inclined to show point-by-point why many of Mr. Obama’s statements qualified as ludicrous, unfair, misleading or outright false–including the president claiming Syria and Afghanistan as foreign-policy successes; impugning the motives of those who want stronger sanctions against Iran; insisting that the basic structure of his health-care law is working; referring to the sequester cuts his administration originally proposed as being “damaging” and which “created headwinds for our economy”; and declaring that 2014 can be a “breakthrough year for America.”

But in the wake of what Mr. Obama said on Friday, my reaction was more to tune him out, to dismiss him as an increasingly small and marginalized figure, as a man who is playing a game the rest of us are opting out of.

Think back to the guy in high school–let’s call him Barry–who, when he first meets people, sells himself as something special. He’s gifted with words and makes fairly exorbitant claims about what we can expect of him. And many of his classmates believe him. But over time they observe that he falls consistently short in every arena. He’s academically mediocre, not outstanding; he finishes in the bottom half of the track meets we’re told he’ll excel in; and while he’s in the school play, it’s as a secondary figure. 

Here’s the thing, though: He never stops talking. He’s filled with excuses. He’s constantly reweaving events to make himself look good. He keeps making promises, lovely and extravagant promises, but they’re devalued and emptied of meaning. Barry is just being Barry. Don’t take him seriously. He’s just a talker.

It strikes me that more and more Americans are now viewing the president in a similar fashion. They’ve seen the Obama act for five long years, and it’s become tiresome. We’re on to the verbal tricks, the stale formulations, the endless straw men and unmatched sense of moral superiority. We’ve figured out that the reality has never come close to meeting the expectations and promises. And so words that had a magical effect before now elicit a roll of the eyes. Barry is just being Barry. Don’t take him seriously. He’s just a talker.

For many Americans, that’s where Barack Obama finds himself at the end of his fifth year in office. Can he recover?

The guy in high school never did.