Commentary Magazine


Topic: Carol E. Lee

We Expect More of Presidents

In a story entitled “Obama’s First Year: What Went Wrong” (not a headline the Obami like to see), John F. Harris and Carol E. Lee opine that a key error was “the Obama team believed that there was something singular about the president’s appeal and ability to inspire.” In other words, they believed their own hype and imagined that the content of what they were selling was less important than the messiah-messenger.

How did the Obama team come to such a conclusion? Well, it’s easy, I suppose, when you slay the Clintons, win the presidency with virtually no experience, and hear nothing but approval from the devoted media day after day. Obama, described by observers after his election as supremely confident, conflated his ability to win office against hapless opponents with a near-mystical ability to motivate voters, persuade foreign powers, and humble enemies. No wonder his speechwriters didn’t bother to fact-check his health-care speeches and his Cairo speech was filled with historical half-truths and distortions. The Obami didn’t care if what the president said was accurate. That sort of fixation on accuracy is for mere mortal politicians. The White House had Him on its side. Besides, a sympathetic and lazy press wouldn’t hassle him over some made-up “facts.”

But it turned out that while a small band of devoted followers swooned before Candidate Obama, the country as a whole held the president to a higher standard. They expected results. They didn’t appreciate gobbledygook about blue and red pills and wanted a non-catatonic response to a terror attack. They heard him say unemployment would stay below 8 percent if the stimulus passed, and then watched in dismay as it hit double digits. They heard him say that he didn’t want to run car companies, only to see him take them over. They heard him say he’d let them keep their insurance, and then discovered that his “reform” would shove them out of “Cadillac plans,” cut their Medicare, and force their employers to provide Obama-approved health care.

In short, substance mattered. Obama’s hubris led him to believe he could say practically anything and get away with it. He did during the campaign, of course. But we expect more of our presidents. When the spell is broken and the campaign ends, we expect a president to be honest, accurate, and effective. Obama has been none of these things. No wonder his presidency is in crisis.

In a story entitled “Obama’s First Year: What Went Wrong” (not a headline the Obami like to see), John F. Harris and Carol E. Lee opine that a key error was “the Obama team believed that there was something singular about the president’s appeal and ability to inspire.” In other words, they believed their own hype and imagined that the content of what they were selling was less important than the messiah-messenger.

How did the Obama team come to such a conclusion? Well, it’s easy, I suppose, when you slay the Clintons, win the presidency with virtually no experience, and hear nothing but approval from the devoted media day after day. Obama, described by observers after his election as supremely confident, conflated his ability to win office against hapless opponents with a near-mystical ability to motivate voters, persuade foreign powers, and humble enemies. No wonder his speechwriters didn’t bother to fact-check his health-care speeches and his Cairo speech was filled with historical half-truths and distortions. The Obami didn’t care if what the president said was accurate. That sort of fixation on accuracy is for mere mortal politicians. The White House had Him on its side. Besides, a sympathetic and lazy press wouldn’t hassle him over some made-up “facts.”

But it turned out that while a small band of devoted followers swooned before Candidate Obama, the country as a whole held the president to a higher standard. They expected results. They didn’t appreciate gobbledygook about blue and red pills and wanted a non-catatonic response to a terror attack. They heard him say unemployment would stay below 8 percent if the stimulus passed, and then watched in dismay as it hit double digits. They heard him say that he didn’t want to run car companies, only to see him take them over. They heard him say he’d let them keep their insurance, and then discovered that his “reform” would shove them out of “Cadillac plans,” cut their Medicare, and force their employers to provide Obama-approved health care.

In short, substance mattered. Obama’s hubris led him to believe he could say practically anything and get away with it. He did during the campaign, of course. But we expect more of our presidents. When the spell is broken and the campaign ends, we expect a president to be honest, accurate, and effective. Obama has been none of these things. No wonder his presidency is in crisis.

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