Teleprompter of the United States

How bad was the president’s speech yesterday? So bad that Dana Perino, former press secretary for George Bush, dismissed it on Fox News last night as the work of TOTUS (Teleprompter Of The United States). Even the usually supportive Dana Milbank of the Washington Post was appalled by it: “It’’s not exactly fair to blame Obama for the rout: Almost certainly, the markets ignored him. And that’’s the problem: The most powerful man in the world seems strangely powerless, and irresolute, as larger forces bring down the country and his presidency.” His column’s ending is devastating:

“I don’’t want to get too far ahead of the process,” he [press secretary Jay Carney] explained to the Wall Street Journal’’s Laura Meckler, adding that Obama “will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.”

It was not only a portrait of Abraham Lincoln Obama was standing before when he spoke. On the mantel piece behind him are carved the words written in 1800 by the first inhabitant of the White House, John Adams, and placed there by order of Franklin Roosevelt in 1942: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

Adams’ prayer has not always been answered, and some inhabitants of the White House were neither honest nor wise and some were only one of those, which is not enough. But when we needed an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt, Heaven gave them to us.

If there is anybody who Obama does not remind me of, it is FDR. He made plenty of mistakes, but he always led, forcefully and with surpassing political skills, to bring the country through the trials of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

More and more, President Obama reminds me of one of the great characters in American fiction, Captain Francis Queeg of The Caine Mutiny. Queeg  (unforgettably portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the movie version) wasn’t a bad man, just one who had been promoted above his level of competence and, paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, was unable to lead, which is what a ship’s captain must do. Evading responsibility was his sole concern. The result was near disaster when the ship encountered a typhoon.

We can only hope in the next 18 months, this country doesn’t face the equivalent of what Queeg faced.