Yesterday was a remarkable day in the presidency of Barack Obama. Not once, but twice, did he acknowledge the true state and nature of his presidency.
First up, he discussed the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. In a statement that was filled with typical Obama self-reference (ever notice that, to him, the significance of an event is enhanced by his presence and attention?), Obama stumbled into the truth:
One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice. Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.
Speak it, brother. Obama’s award was hardly the most undeserving in the Nobel Peace Prize’s sordid history, but Liu Xiaobo is certainly well-deserved. He has struggled mightily (and non-violently) to bring democracy and freedom to Communist China, and has suffered mightily under the thumb of that dictatorship for his efforts. His award is an all-too-rare bright spot in the sordid recent history of the Nobel Peace Prize.
But that’s a topic for another time. The point is, here Obama — in the midst of typical “I’m so awesome” speech, stumbled into a moment of rare candor in acknowledging that he didn’t really deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. That awarding was hardly the travesty other awards have been (again, a topic for another time), but it was utterly unjustified and a farce.
Later in the day, Obama had a more direct action. After meeting with former President Clinton about how to push the tax compromise through Congress, the two men decided to hold a joint news conference — and halfway through, Obama cut out to go to a Christmas party. That left Bill Clinton back where he most wanted to be, where he had been truly great and happy — in the White House, at the podium, talking policy and fielding questions from the press. The only thing he was missing was a cigar and an intern.
Could this be the beginning of true self-awareness dawning on President Obama? Acknowledging that he was not worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, and more than willing to pass his presidential authority (and very lectern) to another man? Another man who has previously held the office, and whose administration is actually being to be seen fondly even among those who had been among his harshest critics?
I don’t want to read too much into this, but it’s looking more and more possible that Obama is coming to the realization that many of us had years ago — that he simply is not up for the demands of the office. He was great at getting elected, a gifted campaigner (when promoting himself), and certainly enjoys the perqs that go with being The Chief Executive of the United States.
But there’s a price for those privileges. That is having to actually be the Chief Executive of the United States. It means being the Decider In Chief, the Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces, the undisputed head of the Executive Branch, and de facto leader of your political party. And Barack Obama — who, prior to his election, had no experience and shown no aptitude for such things — might, less than halfway through his first term, be coming to grips with his own shortcomings.
Maybe he will come to grips with this, and he might find within himself previously-untapped depths and abilities to grow into the job he’s pursued all his life, and actually become the president in fact as well as in name? Might he actually be able to take all these failures and surrenders and rise to the occasion? Could he rein in his epic narcissism and admit — if even to himself — that he’s not perfect and has a hell of a lot to learn.
I have my doubts. But dammit, I hope so. We need a real president in these days, even one whose policies and ideals I mostly oppose. And even a bad president is better than no president — which is pretty much what we have right now.