The Problem With Obama

I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November

–“Mr. November,” The National

I’ll sum this up at the start: Obama’s not nearly as cool as he thinks he is.

That’s his problem. That’s why he’s smooth on the outside, and ineffective as a leader. He’s perfected the art of looking good, talking big, and doing little. He is, after all, a politician. That’s what they do. And who can blame the guy? We’ve built him up to believe he’s the greatest thing since Steve Perry.

I come here not to sling arrows or arbitrarily pick at a person in power, but to get to the heart of our country’s love/hate relationship with our fearless leader. I truly think Obama is a good guy, a smart guy, a capable guy. He’s just not what he promised, not what you thought he was.

Obey the t-shirt. Watch my speech. Like me, really like me.

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan penned an abnormally interesting and balanced piece on Obama’s steady return to our good graces. She predicts a heroic performance at next week’s State of the Union address, as do I.

But don’t you remember that kid at your high school who was a nerd, through and through, but smoked a little pot and maybe had a moderately wealthy father and therefore a swimming pool? We let that kid think he was cool, think he was smarter than he is, because we wanted something from him.

The same is true with Obama.

We wanted his Hope; oh boy, do we American folk need Hope, especially after the last guy. But did we really choose Hope, or did we choose Not McCain? Everything is relative. Obama was better than Hilary too, which is how he earned the right to run against a creaky ancient robot. Like Al Gore, this whole tamale was his to lose. Unlike Al Gore, he won.

I know my place in the world. I have overarching self-awareness. I combat my blustery self-promotion with achingly self-deprecating humor. I use too many adjectives. I’m a mediocre blogger. I’m not president, yet.

Obama’s almost always impossibly smug, acting as if he’s just done something great, even if he’s actually just unwittingly crippled the economic future of our children with audacious and impossible-to-implement entitlements. I’ve been flabbergasted since the Democratic primaries; how can he fool so many people when it’s so clear to me and a very non-vocal minority that he’s putting us on?

His partisan rhetoric may be the most divisive ever uttered by a serving President (to be fair, he’s getting wiser and toning it down). When he’s unscripted, he employs rampant vocal pauses and a less-than-imposing presence. The American people wanted a feel-good story as they trudged through the darkest days of our social and economic history. They ate up their popcorn, and ate up Mr. November’s empty theatrics.

We liberal-minded Obama doubters were scared to say anything back in 2008. Can you blame us? Anytime I opened my mouth to politely question the experience, intelligence, or plastic charisma of Obama, a roving band of silent bumper-sticker-laden killer Priuses would pounce on me like angry thugs. Normally intelligent, thoughtful friends would yell, or simply stop talking to me. There was no dialogue. Accept the Messiah, or go back your anti-abortion protest, you oil-swilling racist dolphin killer.

I’ve always had a hard time putting a finger on what’s wrong with Obama. Maybe nothing’s wrong with the guy; it’s just a case of lofty expectations preceding inevitable disappointment. I still have a hard time believing people really swallowed all the populist platitudes he fed us back in 2008. But now that even Jon Stewart has taken to regularly lambasting the man he once regarded as a deity, I think it’s safe to proffer my ineffectual comments in this well-regarded and little-read forum.

No president can be fairly judged, period. They deal with complex issues on a global scale, and oversee dynamic teams filled with geniuses and morons.

Obama’s challenges are not unique, and his position isn’t an envious one. But he needs to demonstrate progress toward fulfilling his promises to unite, to inspire, to change. Like most before him, he hasn’t come close; he zealously oversold a weakened populace at its most gullible moment.

And for that, he’ll never be cool.

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8 thoughts on “The Problem With Obama

  1. Here’s the problem with Obama…he is everything and nothing – all at the same time. I credit that to someone else, but I can’t think of who said it. Look at him objectively – Nomadic childhood; nomadic academic life (Occidental (LA), Columbia (NYC), Harvard(Boston)); and a nomadic professional life (professor, organizer, local, state, national senator, President). He settles in Chicago and all of the sudden he’s a Southsider.

    When he’s talking about “working folks” he drops his grammar and pronunciation.

    When he is pontificating, he stares at the sky as to not make eye-contact with the help.

    When log jamming his agenda through Congress he’s a ruthless authoritative demon.

    When he addresses the world, he cowers, bows and apologizes.

    As you astutely pointed out, he’s the nerd that the cool kids let think he was cool. And just like every bad movie with this storyline, he forgot who made him cool. He thought it was important to be loved abroad and feared at home. This was his most expensive misstep.

    The world loves to hate America because we are the dad who can fix everything, clean up everything and is not afraid of the bogeyman. The rest of the world is precocious teenager who thinks they can do everything, but can’t. And like those teenagers, the first thing they do when the water gets rough is call dad to fix it. And he does. Every time. And they hate him for it, because they don’t want to have to call him, but they love that he’s there. Obama misread this and decided that the world needed to really like us and we should be friends instead of a parent. Instead of being strong abroad and standing strong, he bowed to weak nations and apologized to anyone who would listen. Meanwhile at home, he told a disenfranchised minority (which may actually be the majority in 2012) to shut and take it, ‘I know better than you’.

    This is why he is a terrible leader. It is tough. It means people will not like you. You are the guy who has to make tough decisions. Leaders do not apologize. They acknowledge a failure, take blame and move on. They let others praise them, and in turn thank everyone who helped in the success. Obama has done exactly the opposite. Problems are caused by someone else. He led successes. He created committees to help make decisions so he could immediately blame the information, not the decision. Because he is not the cool kid by nature, he doesn’t understand why cool kids are cool. It’s because they don’t care if someone likes them; they only care about making things happen, which is why people like them.

    The world is reeling. It needs a Leader. Traditionally, this has fallen to the President. As you noted, he says he is up to the task, but keeps ducking the call. Let’s hope some heady teenager doesn’t answer before 2012.

  2. I like the way you wrote this part:

    “Anytime I opened my mouth to politely question the experience, intelligence, or plastic charisma of Obama, a roving band of silent bumper-sticker-laden killer Priuses would pounce on me like angry thugs. Normally intelligent, thoughtful friends would yell, or simply stop talking to me. There was no dialogue.”

  3. What’s interesting is Obama has done more in 2 years than almost any other President in history – for better or worse, depending on your point of view. Iraq is basically over (it likely wouldn’t have been under McCain/Palin), gays can openly serve, banks are once again slightly more regulated and trillions have been spent on the largest tax cuts, infrastructure projects and health care benefits in generations. Has he really been “ineffective as a leader” with all those points on the board? Again, this depends on your point of view. Clearly you disagree with his accomplishments and thus flatly call him ineffective, but this is a myopic, Noonan-esque view of what’s been happening.

    However, what’s more interesting about this piece is it looks like it has been written by a member of the progressive intelligentsia. It’s, no doubt by accident but perhaps not, a classic liberal/progressive argument.

    Stay with me.

    There has been much written and said about why Democrats will never be as “on message” as Republicans always seem to be, and the core reason is it’s impossible to corral a free thinking, more educated (this is statistically true, not conjecture or judgement) base. Your post above is a perfect example of this – it may’ve well been written by Paul Begala, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart or…gasp….Arianna Huffington!

    I highly recommend the 2nd act of this episode of “This American Life” that discusses exactly this dynamic:
    (this first act about some Tea Partiers in Michigan is also terrific).

    Good piece but it needs more thought to be well rounded.

    1. Dear god, sir, please never again compare me to Arianna Huffington! I know feathers have been ruffled if I’m on the receiving end of such dastardly put-downs.

      Nah, she’s OK. And so is Obama. I agree with you, he’s done some good things, as he should, seeing how he’s the ruler of the free world. My point is a true leader can’t be this divisive, this charged of a figure, especially when his whole grandstanding act was about bringing everyone together.

      My point was that people are so blinded by Obama-love that they dismiss a mild interrogation of his intangible leadership skills, which any MBA grad could observe to be above-average but not as well-formed or impressive as the hype.

      My point was to get guys like you and Sean to prove my point by penning a piece that wasn’t all that anti-Obama and having you write retorts that are thoughtful and much appreciated but also clearly defensive.

      Of course, I put you on the defensive, so I deserve it! That’s what punk-ass bloggers with narcissistic tendencies do.

      Thanks for the response. This is, after all, now officially a discussion, which shows much progress versus where we were in 2008.

  4. I would add that the best point your piece makes is that so many of us truly hoped that the country would come together after the now-absurd Clinton scandal years and the scary Bush war years. Let’s face it, Bush was a divisive figure — hated by 50% of the country on the left and at least disapproved of by a solid 23% of the country on the right (as his 27% approval ratings indicated).

    So we naively HOPED Obama would change that. We were wrong. The rhetoric on the right has been toxic with the Tea Party craze and the birthers, and almost as bad on the left where some blamed (in a particularly circular and incoherent argument) that the rhetoric on the right by Palin/Beck/etc. led to the shooting of the Congresswoman. What the what?

    But here’s the problem: I still hope for a day when we can have intellectual disagreements on places like the Smatter and not call each other Hitler. Here’s to hoping there’s a Mr. November out there who can do it. Personally I think that could be Obama and I respect your opinion that it can’t be due to his leadership qualities.

    “I wish that I believed in fate.”

  5. Very brave!
    No matter what, there will always be people who believe you are not good enough, or you havent done enough. Its life! We are pre-tuned to always want greener grass.
    Not a bad thing because it means that we personally should always be pursuing bigger, better things.

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