— Bud Norman
Identifying the biggest mistake made thus far by the Obama administration is not an easy chore. There are so many possible choices, after all, and only history can reveal which one ultimately proves most damaging. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to hear that Obama reckons his biggest blunder has been that he just didn’t give the right speeches.
While speaking with a person called Charlie Rose on a television program called “CBS This Morning,” which apparently airs in the mornings when we are trying to get some sleep, President Obama was asked to reflect on the greatest accomplishments and failures of his time in office. He replied that “When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, the mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”
Although it would be presumptuous to say how future generations will assess the Obama administration, it does seem safe to venture a guess that they will render a judgment quite different from Obama’s. Historians can be an ideological lot, but it will require a rare fealty to look back on the five trillion dollars of debt that was racked up, the persistently high unemployment and meager economic growth that occurred despite all the stimulative spending, an expensive and inefficient medical system imposed despite widespread opposition, as well as a deteriorating international order, and conclude that the president’s biggest problem was that he just couldn’t tell a good enough story.
Liberals have a fervent faith in the magic of words, though, and given how far in life Obama has traveled on their power he is bound to be a true believer. Back in ’03 a UC-Berkeley linguistics professor called George Lakoff wrote a book called “Moral Politics” that argued dim-witted conservatives beat brilliant liberals in elections only because they use words more effectively. For several years afterwards the liberal rags were abuzz with articles about “framing” and “narratives” and “telling stories,” all reaching the same conclusion that if they just came up with some catchy slogans and a sufficiently seductive storyline that reality would gladly conform itself to their expectations. The theory seemed to work just as promised in the ’08 election, when the world’s greatest orator had the adoring throngs fainting in the aisle as his sonorous baritone spoke of hope and change, thus changing political reality to the liberals’ satisfaction, but since then the economic and geo-political realities have some proved far more stubbornly resistant to the rhetoric than were those screaming crowds of star-struck youngsters and aging hippies.
We suspect that Obama’s extraordinary ego has leads him to the dubious conclusion that his only failing has been his inability to dumb down his lofty prose enough to convince the American rubes how wonderful he’s been. He did everything right, after all, and if the public can’t see that just because the results have been so plainly awful he can’t be expected to do anything about that. By “framing” the “narrative” in this manner he arrives at a neat rationalization, one well worth jettisoning his worn-out no longer useful reputation as the world’s greatest orator.
— Bud Norman