The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.