Jennifer Rubin astutely notes that Obama the candidate “let everyone form their own impression of who he is and what he stands for.” (In this respect, he is like one of those alien species from Star Trek with the ability to assume the appearance of whatever life-form it finds itself among.) And Rubin correctly reads Tina Brown as saying that Obama does not believe in the mission in Afghanistan and — at least implicitly — that the Daily Beast editor is calling the president a liar when he claims that his health-care plan will be “deficit neutral.”
Brown’s comments call to mind Christopher Buckley’s odd endorsement, in October 2008, of Obama’s presidential bid, in which Buckley — like a feckless member of the Starship Enterprise crew — failed to see the alien standing in front of him as alien, even to the point of turning over control of the ship to him. In his endorsement, Buckley identified himself as “a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets” and correctly characterized Obama as a “lefty,” raising the obvious question: “So, Chris, why are you endorsing him?” Part of Buckley’s answer concerned his dissatisfaction with John McCain. But beyond that, Buckley opined that Obama had “a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect” and that, therefore, he would “surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves.” In other words, Buckley supported Obama because he thought Obama was too smart to do the things he was promising to do; which is to say, he supported him because he didn’t believe him.
Now that President Obama has resorted precisely to the “traditional left-politics” that Buckley was so sure he would eschew, and has deepened the “pit” by several orders of magnitude — with the worst yet to come — we are left to conclude (1) that Obama’s intelligence and temperament fall far short of what so many of his supporters — and some of his adversaries — attributed to him, and/or (2) that Obama was telling the truth about his policy intentions all along and that what is in doubt is the capacity of some of his supporters to recognize an alien when they see one.
Tina Brown confesses that “whenever Obama makes an important policy speech these days he leaves everyone totally confused.” She wonders if this is “a strategy so that whatever bill trickles out of Congress or however many soldiers linger in Afghanistan, he can claim that the outcome is what he meant it all along.” Or maybe these guys aren’t good at governing (“for all the administration’s vaunted mastery of multiplatform communication, Rahm and Gibbs and company are actually amateurs at crafting a clear political message and launching it on the dazed American public”). Well, both alternatives are possible.
Brown settles on the explanation that the speechifying is so muddled because Obama doesn’t believe what he is saying. He knows, she thinks, there is no deficit-neutral health care that extends coverage to tens of millions of more people, and she thinks he doesn’t believe in the mission in Afghanistan. What she is really saying is that the president is a liar. And that’s a rather strong accusation, but not unlike what many liberals are grumbling about these days. Convinced that Obama’s heart and political soul is firmly on the Left, they surmise that anything short of undiluted Leftism is a “lie” or a fakery that doesn’t embody the “real” Obama.
Obama, at a most inopportune time, with a new war-strategy rollout and the health-care debate at a critical juncture, is managing to turn off each segment of the electorate. The Tina Brown liberal sophisticates are convinced he’s faking it. The moderates and independents think they are victims of a bait and switch. And conservatives are crowing that they were right all along about Obama — he’s the worst of Jimmy Carter and George McGovern. It is, from a political perspective, a mess.
But it is, after all, what is naturally expected to flow from a candidate who let everyone form their own impression of who he is and what he stands for. It is what comes from delegating major decisions and legislative draftsmanship to others. Rather than filling in the blanks with their own positive images of Obama, diverse voters are now filling in the blanks with their gripes and disappointments. It’s only the first year of his presidency, but if this keeps up, Obama will have managed to alienate friends and persuadable voters in the middle, as well as energize the opposition. No easy feat.