Pete, the whining is a bit much to take, isn’t it? But it is not uncommon and seems to be a sort of rhetorical tic employed by many Democratic presidents. They seem to think we should be impressed because they work hard or think deeply about the things they are elected to handle. Remember Bill Clinton reminding us about how hard he worked and about all the late-night meetings? Obama and his spinners also liked to regale us with tales about his endless, soul-searching Afghanistan seminars. They imagine the public is going to give them credit simply for working at a job they were elected to perform.
And they seem to think the public will be impressed because they have a command of minutiae. Obama knows how many troops we should have in each and every Afghan province! Clinton knew the maps and relative population figures for Palestinians and Israelis better than the two sides! Seriously, none of that matters. The minutiae are going to change with the first contact with reality. (Gen. Stanley McChrystal is going to put the troops where they need to go, so long as the White House doesn’t micromanage the battle.) And if the president gets the big things wrong (e.g., supposing Arafat wanted a peace deal, setting up a withdrawal deadline that freaks out our allies and emboldens our foes), none of the small stuff matters.
So why do these Democratic presidents do it? It is the triumph they imagine of intentions over results. And it is a huge act of ego — the hubris of believing that they should be applauded for being so diligent rather than be judged on the results they achieve.
In Howard Fineman’s column in Newsweek we read this:
President Barack Obama begins and ends each workday at the White House by going over a to-do list with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The two were reviewing things recently when Emanuel reminded him of the sheer size of the administration’s workload, which includes fending off the Great Recession and dealing with terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now, evidently, Yemen. “You know, Mr. President,” Emanuel said, “Franklin Roosevelt had eight years to deal with the economy before he had to lead a war. You have to do it all at once.”
Perhaps Barack “No Drama” Obama has been replaced by Barack “Melodrama” Obama. It would be beneficial to us all if the president and his staff eased up just a bit on the whining, blame-shifting, and feeling sorry for themselves (not to mention the comparisons to FDR). They should become, to borrow an old-fashioned word, more manly.
Memo to the President: You face stiff challenges, as do all presidents. But for the record, a recession is not a depression and the war in Afghanistan is not comparable to World War II. The most difficult actions that had to be taken on the economic front were ones done by your predecessor, before you were sworn in – and a good deal of the responsibility for what went wrong rests with the party you represent (see blocking reforms of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae). The Iraq war you inherited is going pretty well (no thanks to the policies you advocated when you were in the Senate); our presence there is winding down. And al-Qaeda, while still a lethal threat, has been significantly degraded and weakened thanks to the policies of the last eight years. Here is the truth you do not want to hear but need to be told: You took a difficult situation you inherited and, in several respects, made things worse rather than better.
If the burdens of the office are too much for Mr. Obama, he should never have sought it in the first place — and he might consider not seeking it next time. For now, though, the office is his. We don’t need to hear how overworked and overwhelmed and overmatched he is. Unfortunately we see evidence of that almost every day.