I hate to do this publicly, but I have to disagree with my colleague Kim. Yesterday, she posted a clip from Democratic Mark Penn on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball,” where he said that President Obama needs an event like the Oklahoma City bombing to “reconnect” with the American people. This has a lot of people upset and angered.
I find myself taking a slightly more analytical approach, and I think Penn was right — and misunderstood.
The point he seemed to be making is that Obama has succumbed to the most common failings among leftists — to think of “the masses” as “the masses,” and not as individuals. He sees himself as somewhat above the fray, above the unwashed masses, the benevolent overseer who collects from all for the common good and hands out the largesse, making people grateful for their stipend from the benevolent government.
I disagree with one aspect of his premise; he says Obama needs to “reconnect.” I don’t recall him ever being really “connected;” he never presented himself as one of us, but as an idealized creation of ours come to save us from ourselves. There was always a touch of the exotic and distant about him.
Anyway, I think Penn’s premise has some soundness to it. Yes, sometimes it takes some massive crisis to rally the nation to the president, and it can fundamentally transform a presidency.
Penn cited the Oklahoma City bombing as a turning point for President Clinton. I’m not quite sure I’d give that that much credit, but there are plenty of others.
The greatest, of course, has to be 9/11 and President George W. Bush. He wasn’t much of a president at that point. He was still bruised from the disputed election that won him the office, the Democratically-controlled Congress was giving him huge pains in the ass, and he was coming across as pretty much a “caretaker” president in the mold of Gerald Ford. 9/11 changed that forever.
Other examples? Lyndon Johnson and the assassination of President Kennedy. Johnson had been an outsider to the Kennedy administration, an old-school pol more comfortable with smoke-filled rooms and back-room deals and all forms of corruption. But Kennedy’s assassination put him front and center, and gave him the strength and courage to advance the civil rights movement — even over the fierce resistance of his own Democratic party.
Pearl Harbor and FDR. The depression was getting worse, there was still tremendous resistance to getting drawn into another European war, and no one really thought of the Japanese as a threat — or thought of them much at all. But the attack on Pearl Harbor basically saved FDR and this nation.
Teddy Roosevelt and the assassination of President McKinley. TR had been a major pain in the ass to the Republican establishment. He was given the vice-presidency to shut him up and lock him away from the reins of power. But the actions of one lone anarchist nut suddenly put him and his progressive agenda in the driver’s seat, leading to a reshaping of the fabric of the entire nation.
Penn’s thesis seems to be one I can cheerfully accept — Obama needs a major event to salvage his presidency, to present him with an opportunity to rally the people to him and redefine himself and his administration.
The problem is, I don’t know if he’s capable of making that kind of change. I think he’s entirely capable of “letting a crisis go to waste” and instead of latching on to such events to improve his positions, choosing to “double down on stupid” and continue on his current failing ways.
He’s had several such chances to pivot and rally the people, and he’s let them go to waste. The Gulf oil spill could have been one. The Fort Hood shootings were another. The failed terrorist attacks — the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber, and the recent package bombers — could have been bloodless crises that served to turn things around.
The key here is that Obama is the one who needs these opportunities — and the wisdom and courage to take them. The American people don’t. It’s not our job to find reasons to set aside our differences with him, but his job to present us with the reason to come to him.
Because — and this is the point that a lot of leftists miss — he’s not our boss. We’re his boss. We hired him, we pay him, and we can fire him. We are the ones who need to be satisfied. He has to find out what will please us, and demonstrate that not only does he understand it, but can and will provide it.
Right now, he’s failing at that. We hired him based on impressive credentials and a dazzling interview, overlooking the flimsy resume’ to show what he’s done with his credentials and personality. We gave him a 48-month contract. Now we’re seeing that he’s not so great at actually performing the job we hired him for, and we’ve given him a very poor 24-month performance review. If he doesn’t shape up and start producing, we’ll likely fire him when his contract is up.
The one thing we can count on is that there will be more crises between now and then. There will be more opportunities for Obama to wake up and smell the coffee. He’s just been handed yet another opportunity, with the “shellacking” he got last Tuesday. We can only hope that this one, which didn’t actually involve Americans getting killed, will do what those others failed to do: to convince Obama he’s doing it all wrong.
I fear it won’t. I fear that Obama will continue to insist that the only problem is that we’re just too stupid; we simply can’t understand what he’s saying, so he’s going to keep on trying to explain to us what we just can’t seem to grasp. He can’t seem to conceive that there are a lot of us who do understand what he’s selling — and we’re not interested in buying. That we comprehend his ideas, and reject them.
Then again, I could be wrong. President Obama can finally realize and accept that he’s not infallible, that he’s not a gift from God to the United States. He could find some way to be a successful president.
Please, let me be wrong.