The Limits of Charisma: Mr. President, please stay off TV
If ubiquity were the measure of a presidency, Barack Obama would already be grinning at us from Mount Rushmore. But of course it is not. Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it. He’s a man with an endless, worthy to-do list—health care, climate change, bank reform, global capital regulation, AfPak, the Middle East, you name it—but, as yet, no boxes checked “done.” This is a problem that style will not fix. Unless Obama learns to rely less on charm, rhetoric, and good intentions and more on picking his spots and winning in political combat, he’s not going to be reelected, let alone enshrined in South Dakota.
The president’s problem isn’t that he is too visible; it’s the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer. There is, at times, a self-referential (even self-reverential) tone in his big speeches. They are heavily salted with the words “I” and “my.” (He used the former 11 times in the first few paragraphs of his address to the U.N. last week.) Obama is a historic figure, but that is the beginning, not the end, of the story.
I’ve got news for Fineman and Obama, his egocentric speeches are NOT charming nor do they denote charisma, because speaking eloquently FROM A TELEPROMPTER, does not engender faith or confidence in this man. Because he can READ eloquently, does not make him brilliant.
There is only so much political mileage that can still be had by his reminding the world that he is not George W. Bush. It was the winning theme of the 2008 campaign, but that race ended nearly a year ago. The ex-president is now more ex than ever, yet the current president, who vowed to look forward, is still reaching back to Bush as bogeyman.
He did it again in that U.N. speech. The delegates wanted to know what the president was going to do about Israel and the Palestinian territories. He answered by telling them what his predecessor had failed to do. This was effective for his first month or two. Now it is starting to sound more like an excuse than an explanation.
Hasn’t anyone in his inner circle told him that his blame game is wearing thin? Doesn’t he get it? People want to know what HE’S going to do, not what Bush did or didn’t do and that includes foreign powers. The Europeans were all a twitter when Obama was elected and they have great expectations regarding all the good he said he was going to do. The world is waiting.
Members of Obama’s own party know who Obama is not; they still sometimes wonder who he really is. In Washington, the appearance of uncertainty is taken as weakness—especially on Capitol Hill, where a president is only as revered as he is feared. Being the cool, convivial late-night-guest in chief won’t cut it with Congress, an institution impervious to charm (especially the charm of a president with wavering poll numbers). Members of both parties are taking Obama’s measure with their defiant and sometimes hostile response to his desires on health care. Never much of a legislator (and not long a -senator), Obama underestimated the complexity of enacting a major “reform” bill. Letting Congress try to write it on its own was an awful idea. As a balkanized land of microfiefdoms, each loyal to its own lobbyists and consultants, Congress is incapable of being led by its “leadership.” It’s not like Chicago, where you call a guy who calls a guy who calls Daley, who makes the call. The president himself must make his wishes clear—along with the consequences for those who fail to grant them.
Yes, he’s underestimated a lot of things which is a direct reflection on his lack of experience. He’s out of his element and in over his head. He’s so busy trying to appease the world’s dictators and pander to his fringe left lunatic friends that he can’t concentrate on what’s best for the entire country, let alone the world.
The model is a man whose political effectiveness Obama repeatedly says he admires: Ronald Reagan. There was never doubt about what he wanted. The Gipper made his simple, dramatic tax cuts the centerpiece not only of his campaign but also of the entire first year of his presidency.
Obama seems to think he’ll get credit for the breathtaking scope of his ambition. But unless he sees results, it will have the opposite effect—diluting his clout, exhausting his allies, and emboldening his enemies.
I think he really believed he could remake this nation and all in just 10 months. Again, give these guys enough rope and they will hang themselves. He won and that meant, to him, that he could make the United States a third world Marxist utopia by the force of sheer will. It isn’t going to work. His far-reaching, over-reaching ambitions are too much, too fast and Americans aren’t going to be dragged along. He will get credit alright, but not for what he’s gotten accomplished but for how he’s damaged confidence, trust and faith in the government.
That may be starting to happen. Health-care legislation is still weeks, if not months, from passage, and the bill as it stands could well be a windfall for the very insurance and drug companies it was supposed to rein in. Climate-change legislation (a.k.a. cap-and-trade) is almost certainly dead for this year, which means that American negotiators will go empty-handed to the Copenhagen summit in December —pushing the goal of limiting carbon emissions even farther into the distance. In the spring Obama privately told the big banks that he was going to change the way they do business. It was going to be his way or the highway. But the complex legislation he wants to submit to Congress has little chance of passage this year. Doing Letterman again won’t help. It may boost the host’s ratings, Mr. President, but probably not your own.
People need to see that he’s actually WORKING and not just flapping his lips and giggling it up with Letterman. Most of his time is spent traveling someplace (I’d love to see what his carbon footprint is for less than a year in office) to stage pep rallies with his followers, while making no effort to win over those who are dubious of his agenda. In fact, he’s deliberately snubbed and insulted “those other” Americans. Telling us to shut up and get with the program is not going to win him support from independents and conservatives who have doubts about his plans or his ability to even lead.
He needs to start listening to those who trying to help him and ignore his inner circle of coat-tail riders. Just like him, they are in it for themselves.
(Emphasis is mine.)
If you can stand it, here’s his “fired up – ready to go” routine:
(I’d love to know what “bad story” the NYT ran about him. That would be the one and only, if it’s even true.)