Japan may be on the verge of an unprecedented catastrophe. Saudi Arabia is all but colonizing Bahrain. Qaddafi is close to retaking Libya, with bloodbath to follow. And, as Jim Geraghty notes, the president of the United States is going on ESPN to talk about the NCAA and delivering speeches today on his rather dull plan to replace No Child Left Behind with No Teenager Left Behind, or something like that.
It’s hard to overstate how poorly Barack Obama is doing in the face of these crises — and I don’t even mean how he’s doing substantively, which is a scandal in itself. I mean how he’s doing politically. Recall how much hay Michael Moore made of the fact that George W. Bush read My Pet Goat for nine minutes in that Florida classroom on 9/11 after being informed that the first plane had struck.
We’re going on four weeks now, or more, that Barack Obama has been reading My Pet Goat.
He is largely notable by his absence, which is itself the result not only of not knowing what to do but also apparently believing it is better for the world if he remains a minor player as a bloodbath approaches in the Middle East and something more ominous seems to be approaching in Japan. When he talks, as he did in Friday’s press conference, he only makes matters more confusing; there is little reassurance that there is a hand anywhere near the tiller.
Obama’s defiant unwillingness to take the measure of the world’s multiple crises and to act as a world leader in response to them in the eyes of the public indicates a fundamental disconnect in the Oval Office. We’ve heard all kinds of talk about how his new team in the White House is so much better than the old, but at least the old team recognized there was a crisis underway in the United States in 2009. It reacted too gleefully, and with wild overreach. But it acted.
Conservatives love to say that Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Liberals are taking comfort, as this analysis of a meaningless and silly all-adults-not-voters poll in the Washington Post today reveals, in the thought that Obama is Bill Clinton circa 1995. But I’m now thinking he’s beginning to resemble George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War in 1991, with his obstinate refusal to take sides in democratization efforts and a general preference for the pretense that his job is largely managerial.
Oddly enough, the best model for Obama to follow, perhaps, would be Richard Nixon’s in his first term. Nixon faced an unimaginable number of worldwide disasters throughout that first term. And what he did, primarily, was attempt to get a hold of them (as a reading of Henry Kissinger’s magisterial White House Years reveals) and have a developed American response for all of them.
By the time 1972 rolled around, the man who had gotten 43 percent of the vote in 1968 managed to score the second most lopsided electoral victory in American history. There were many reasons for it, but one of the key reasons was that he seemed to have demonstrated that he understood, accepted, and was trying to live up to the demands of his job. It was not necessary that he succeed at everything; it was necessary that he wear the mantle of power in pursuit of the American national interest.
Nixon was elevated by his handling of the presidency. Obama is diminishing himself, and Americans and the world will know this.