The Corner

What Obama Said, and What He Didn’t

The web is aflutter this morning with the claim that, in a softball interview with The New Yorker’s David Remnick, President Obama blamed his low approval rating on racism. Per Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama said that racial tensions may have softened his popularity among white voters within the last two years, according to a story posted on the New Yorker magazine’s website today.

I think that this is unfair. What Obama actually said was this:

“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

It was Remnick who added the time component, writing that “Obama’s drop in the polls in 2013 was especially grave among white voters” and that the group that does like him “has been less in evidence of late.” It was Remnick that turned a general line about race into the implication that the president’s current woes are the product of racial animus. Obviously, this doesn’t make much sense — how many people would say, “well, I liked having a black president in 2009, but now I think it’s just downright wrong.” Still, if you’re going to blame someone, it shouldn’t be Obama.

I’m surprised that critics haven’t picked up on the part of the piece that actually is worrying, which is this passage:

The question is whether Obama will satisfy the standard he set for himself. His biggest early disappointment as President was being forced to recognize that his romantic vision of a post-partisan era, in which there are no red states or blue states, only the United States, was, in practical terms, a fantasy. It was a difficult fantasy to relinquish. The spirit of national conciliation was more than the rhetorical pixie dust of Obama’s 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, in Boston, which had brought him to delirious national attention. It was also an elemental component of his self-conception, his sense that he was uniquely suited to transcend ideology and the grubby battles of the day. Obama is defensive about this now. “My speech in Boston was an aspirational speech,” he said. “It was not a description of our politics. It was a description of what I saw in the American people.”

How can an intelligent person believe this? How can a politician honestly think that he was going to effect the disappearance of centuries of ideological, political, and cultural disagreements? It is one thing for the soft-skulled acolytes of the Hope and Change train to have fallen prey to such magical thinking, but for the president to be genuinely disappointed that his election didn’t end politics as history has known it is worrying and instructive in equal measure — and it goes some way to explaining why Obama has been so uncharitable toward his opponents. After all, if your understanding of the nature and tenacity of political dissent is so limited that you thought you were likely to usher a divided citizenry into broad, sunlit uplands, then you are unlikely to have a charitable view of your opponents and their motives. Fascinating.