Amidst all of the chatter about how much blame Obama deserves for the BP spill, I keep hearing conservatives making the point that Obama created an impossible standard for himself and so it’s only fitting he be judged by it. He’s the one who said he’d make the oceans stop rising and all that nonsense, so why not score some points against him for coming up short of his own absurdly high self-regard and the expectations he allowed his followers to develop? I think that’s all well and good, but it seems to me there’s another standard that’s better applied, and not just on BP. Obama is relentless in his effort to pin every bad thing on George W. Bush. Some claims have merit, others are merely defensible but not persuasive, and other claims are simply nonsense. And when Obama was a candidate, Bush’s record was certainly fair game. But this constant Bush-bashing has long since become unpresidential and ill-advised. And now it’s simply lame.
But it’s also dangerous, politically. By insinuating that all of America’s problems can be blamed on Bush, he is also insinuating that presidents have control over everything that happens to a country. They don’t. I have always rejected the idea that the president “runs” the US economy and “creates” jobs — that is, jobs in the private sector. But if Obama keeps arguing that our problems are all the creation of that simultaneously dumb and brilliantly malevolent ol’ debbil Bush, at what point is Obama to be faulted for not reversing them? How come Bush was so good at doing X but Obama is so bad at undoing X?
I think Bush made some mistakes, but I also think globalization, the rise of China, structural factors in our economy, and society are much bigger than any one president. But that’s not how Obama talks. Obama talks as if the president really is in charge of things, both when he’s grandiose and when he’s self-pitying and thin skinned. When he’s grandiose, he can do it all. When he’s self-pitying, Obama would do it all except for the sad fact that George W. Bush used his presidential powers to thwart the forces of progress. And that raises a much lower standard than Messiah for Obama to contend with. Forget whether he can make the oceans recede, the relevant question is whether Obama is simply not up to the job of fixing Bush’s mistakes. That’s a question he raises every day.