Politics & Policy

It’s Not Obama, It’s You

President Obama speaks at a rally for Mary Burke in Milwuakee, Wisc. (Darren Hauck/Getty)
Mary Landrieu’s explanation for the president’s unpopularity is positively Brechtian.

Dear Reader (unless you’re the kind of chickens**t who calls people “chickens**t” anonymously),

Obama fatigue is setting in. Indeed, I’ve gone from Obama fatigue through full-on Obama Epstein-Barr to end-stage Obama narcolepsy. I hear him talking, or hear some MSNBC-type rhapsodizing about how misunderstood he is, and I start dozing off like a truck driver who took the drowsy-formula Nyquil by mistake. “Gotta stay awake! This is my job!” But then 20 seconds later, Jonathan Alter starts telling me how misunderstood the president is, and suddenly orange traffic cones are bouncing off my truck’s grill as I somnolently drift into a highway work zone. You could fill a cereal bowl with broken glass and barbed-wire shards drenched in hot sauce right below my face. All it would take for me to use it as a pillow is a 30-second loop of Obama saying “Let me be clear.” His speeches are like whale sounds, but with less substance. I’d say they’re all white noise, but I don’t want to get called a racist.

This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, as I said during that less-than-exquisite truck-driving simile, this is my job — or at least one of them (I don’t need to follow Obama’s doings for my side gig as chinchilla rancher). I can’t just tune out the president of the United States for the next two years like a normal, happy, well-adjusted American might. I can’t help but feel like Donald Sutherland in Animal House complaining to his bored literature students:

Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring, too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible.

[Bell rings, students rise to leave]

But that doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I’m waiting for reports from some of you . . . Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!

Hey, substitute “Obama” for “Milton” and that holds up pretty well.

This Should Be More Fun

Second, my Obama-narcolepsy is interfering with my Obama-schadenfreude. I for one find it nothing less than hilarious to watch liberal eggheads (both real and imagined), never mind Obama himself, spin elaborate theories for why Obama is not just unpopular but pretty much a failed president.

For the record, this designation — “failed president” — may be premature by objective and historical standards (though I don’t think it is), but his presidency is already in the books as a failure by the standards Obama set for himself. If you promise to turn water into wine and then just run out of water without providing any wine, there’s really no way to plausibly shout “Success!”

He wanted to transform America, not just via policy, but by restoring faith in government itself. He’s had some success on the former but has been a catastrophic failure on the latter, which means the policy successes aren’t nearly as secure as the Left thinks they are.

Speaking of catastrophic failure, rather than risk triggering your own Obama fatigue, watch this metaphorical recap of Obama’s attempts to transform America, as re-enacted by cats trying to jump.

It’s Not Him, It’s You

Explanations for Obama’s failures vary in their honesty and persuasiveness, of course. Mary Landrieu represents the more hackish end of the spectrum. Borrowing a line from the New York Times editorial board, Landrieu blamed it all on southern racism and sexism. In fairness, she was speaking specifically about Louisianans — you know, her constituents. But she helpfully managed to throw all of the South under the bus as well. Hey, if you’re going to go down in a blaze of glory, why be stingy with the kerosene?

Of course, the problem with this theory is that Obama is unpopular across America and in at least 43 states. Even the most generous definition of “southern racist” won’t get you that far in explaining his unpopularity in Wisconsin or Michigan. Moreover, for his numbers to be so bad, it means lots of people who voted for him once or even twice must now disapprove of him. Did all of these independents and moderate Republicans wake up one morning and decide to cut some eyeholes in their pillowcases and become Klansmen?

#page#Other explanations are similar in their desire to place blame elsewhere. The fault lies not in Obama, but in ourselves. Let’s come back to this in a moment because I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. “Gosh, isn’t it about time Jonah quoted East German Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht?”

In Die Lösung Brecht famously quipped that if the people lose faith in the government it would be better if the government dissolved the people and elected another.

For progressives it’s always five minutes to Brecht-O-Clock. What I mean is this desire to fix the people, not the government always seems to be lurking behind liberalism. It was there when Woodrow Wilson said the first job of an educator is to make your children as unlike you as possible. It was there when Obama explained in 2008 that Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania primary supporters weren’t ready to vote for him because they were too busy clinging to their sky god and boom sticks. It’s the central theme of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? It was whispering in John Podesta’s ear when he said the American political system “sucks.” It is at the heart of the Voxy “explanatory journalism” craze, which holds that if you call proselytizing “explaining” it will help the rubes come to their senses. It runs riot in the mainstream media and their sovereign contempt for these stupid, stupid, Americans and their parochial “unscientific” concerns about an organ-liquefying disease (even as the MSM caters to those concerns for the ratings they deliver). It runs like an underground river through the White House’s national-security policies, as they constantly downplay the dangers Islamic terrorism (“Let’s just call it ‘work place violence’!”) for fear of rousing the fearsome beast of public opinion on the side of the war on terror. It’s why the White House doesn’t want Congress to get involved in a deal with Iran, because Congress might actually listen to the people. It’s why the New York Times laments the “bumpkinification of the midterms.”

Obama Creates a Boulder Too Heavy for Him to Lift

Anyway, back to Obama-failure explanations. Some are more structural or formal. The Constitution holds us back. The presidency is too big for any one man. We can’t have great presidents anymore. Even president Obama has come around to this point of view. Here’s Jeff Shesol in The New Yorker:

Despite the grand hopes and hype of the 2008 campaign, this tempering of ambitions, this recognition — and acceptance — of the constraints on Presidential power has been a leitmotif of the Obama Presidency. In an interview with David Remnick published earlier this year, Obama talked about “that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing. Not ‘probably,’ ” he added. “It’s definitely a good thing.” Over the years, Obama and his advisors have issued a long string of statements to this effect: on foreign policy, “leading from behind” (2011); on the limits of executive authority, “there’s no shortcut to democracy” (2013); on civil rights, we must sometimes take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf” (2014).

Shesol is right, but it’s worth noting Obama’s learning curve has been steep. And he’s still climbing it. By my calculations, Barack Obama should be adequately qualified for his current job around 2072. But Shesol, like so many others, let’s Obama off the hook by blaming the system, not the man.

When Obama came into office, he thought it would be different. First, he got almost everything he wanted. These were the salad days when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid served as de facto co-presidents. Then, as it dawned on him that he couldn’t just give a speech to fix a problem, he started complaining about his relative powerlessness. Over the years, the president has let slip countless times that he wishes he had the sort of power not afforded to presidents in a democratic republic. He riffed that he was envious of the power wielded by Frank Underwood in House of Cards (“This guy’s getting a lot of stuff done,” Obama said. “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient”). He whined that the president of China has it so much easier. Yes, because the president of China can give a speech and things will change. You know why? Because he’s a dictator.

Get the Popcorn

Anyway, as the German sadist said after he signed up for his Amazon Prime delivery of special nipple clamps, “Back to schadenfreude.”

I should be enjoying all of this more. The wheels are coming off the very same bus that Barack Obama has been throwing people under for years. And, as Maimonides noted so long ago, it is very hard to throw someone under a bus if the bus has no wheels.

Watching Obama go around insisting that he’s fine with the way his fellow Democrats are distancing themselves from him all the while backhandedly nationalizing the election has been hilarious.

Even more amusing: watching all of these Democrats insist they don’t support Obama when they were perfectly happy to be part of the president’s entourage when he was popular. Now they’re all clearing out like the disco-partiers at Navin Johnson’s house after news of the Opti-Grab class-action lawsuit breaks.

And Shesol’s point about Obama’s learning curve notwithstanding, the president still seems incapable of rhetorically conceding that he’s a political albatross. A couple of weeks after declaring in a big speech that “every single one of my policies are on the ballot” he went on Al Sharpton’s radio show. “The bottom line is, though,” he said of vulnerable Dems, “these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress,” he told the tracksuit-wrapped-carbuncle. “These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me, and I tell them, I said, ‘You know what? You do what you need to do to win. I will be responsible for making sure our voters turn out.’”

And then he started naming specific Democrats by name, starting with Michelle Nunn.

Sometime last year, Obama said that he dreamed of going full Bullworth so he could drop truth bombs on everybody. If you never saw Bullworth, good for you. But just so you know, it was a movie starring Warren Beatty. And, like all Beatty movies of the last 20 years, he spent most of the time under special lights that only illuminated his eyes, to minimize the staggering scope of his enormous forehead and clarify for audiences that he is not in fact Ned Beatty’s skinny kid brother. But that’s not important right now. What you need to know is that Beatty played a senator who had a kind of nervous breakdown and decided to keep it real and say what he really thought.

Substantively, Obama’s been doing that already. By saying this election is about his agenda, he’s in effect the most honest politician in America, at least on this issue. Essentially, he is saying the senators distancing themselves from him are opportunistic liars — and he’s right. Still, it would be more fun to see Obama go Bullworth on style, if for nothing else to see the New York Times headline: “Obama on Vulnerable Dem Candidates: ‘They All My Bitches.’”

#page#Hillary Clinton’s ‘Gaffe’

As a member in good standing of the “Hillary Clinton Is Wildly Overrated” Club, I feel I must say a word or two about her statement the other day that businesses don’t create jobs. Of course what she said was stupid. And I am sure she and other Democrats will say such stupid things again in the future, so we don’t need to dwell on all that. The greater significance of her gaffe, however, is not its ideological import but it’s practical political meaning. She is not a very good politician. Watch the clip. She’s reading from prepared remarks. Normally, her idea of spontaneity is to leap from her prepared remarks to her prepared note cards. But, by her own account, this time she “shorthanded” her argument. And she did it really, really, really, really badly. The woman has given thousands of speeches and this is the best riff she can come up with? As I wrote last week, the idea that just because her last name is Clinton and she was lurking in the White House feeding Sid Blumenthal live rats, she’s a “Clinton Democrat” is ludicrous. Even more ludicrous is the idea that because her husband is a good politician, she is too. You could pry her husband off an intern, slap him across the face with a semi-frozen flounder, and shout “Give me a partisan liberal-populist explanation of where jobs come from, Mister!” And without batting an eye he’d spew out the perfect sound bite, before chastising you for the internus interruptus.

Various & Sundry

First, some housecleaning. In case you hadn’t heard, I am no longer an editor-at-large of National Review Online. I am now a senior editor of National Review. Much like a speech by Barack Obama, this changes almost nothing of substance. It mostly has to do with organizational changes within National Review and my desire to have a title that doesn’t elicit follow-up questions like “What is an editor-at-large?” It does mean however, that I get a vote on endorsements now and I am allowed to let the gimp out of the box when I want.

I want to congratulate the National Review Institute for an absolutely fantastic event this week in New York. We had the first annual William F. Buckley Prize dinner and it was a smashing success. I would also like to congratulate the inaugural winner of the Buckley Prize, my friend and hero Charles Krauthammer, who gave a splendid talk. I particularly enjoyed his 15-minute extemporaneous rap, though I could have used fewer F-bombs.

I also want to congratulate Jonathan Last on the publication of The Seven Deadly Virtues. My contribution to the essay collection — with a few modest changes — appears in the new issue of National Review. His essay on “modern virtue” is the cover story of the new issue of some magazine called The Weekly Standard. We had an event at AEI for the book. Jonathan, P. J. O’Rourke, Rob Long, James Lileks, and Christine Rosen participated. The crowd liked it but some of the humor seemed lost on them at times. I worried the audience might be cold when I introduced the event by saying, “Like Robert Reich’s inseam, I’m going to keep this short” and the crowd looked at me like I said “Crop rotation was an important innovation in the 14th century.” Anyway, you can listen to the event over at Ricochet or wait for it to appear on C-SPAN sometime soon.

You also might like to know I finished my book proposal. I think I confused some readers a few weeks ago when I wrote about this. It’s not about the “Rectification of Names” per se. But name rectification plays an important part in the larger scheme. I’m pretty excited about the project, even if I dread writing another book. If I end up writing this thing, I want to put you on notice now. This “news”letter is technically free. But I’d appreciate it if you assigned a monetary value to it. Say, a quarter for each one. In two or three years, that will probably cover the full price of my book. You can repay me by buying it. Please.

Because it was Halloween, my column from yesterday was on monsters. I write that man is the only monster who ever existed. But this guy has me rethinking that.

Yes, the Goldberg Family will be dressing as zombies again. In years past we were a zombie flight crew, zombie cheerleaders and football players, etc. This year we’re zombie prisoners. Perhaps if you’re good there will be pictures.

By all means click on these links, but look busy when the boss comes. Hopefully you’ll look busier than this. But not as distracted as these guys.

Then again, looking busy at the office isn’t everything.

13 Facts about “Treehouse of Horror.”

And then of course, there’s this stuff.

The most googled Halloween costumes in each state

Guys, don’t try this at home. Actually, only try this at home.

Squirrel sticks its head in a pumpkin

13 real life animals lifted directly out of your nightmares

And here’s 14.

The worst places for surviving the zombie apocalypse

And if you just happen to be the author of the book “Halloween’s not my bag, baby,” some non Halloweeny links:

DC metro map to scale

Coming to an American campus near you soon: The war on sighing.

Google translate has a lot to answer for.

Cuddly Ebola toy

Dog who’s allergic to humans

Puppies chasing laser pointers

Bear found ambling through drug store aisles sent to rehab

Chart claims to show how intelligence predicts your favorite bands

Thank you, science! Having facial hair can be good for your health.

Which means these guys are immortal.

Send your nominations now!

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