During the 2008 campaign season, I marveled about the ability of the candidate and the campaign to stay ‘on message.’ For sure, the messages which candidate Obama offered were the zealously vague platitudes of hope and change, but it served as the perfect counterpoint to the frustrations most of had with the Bush administration. For many, John McCain embodied all the things we disliked about the Bush administration with fewer of its virtues. Hope and change were the right messages and they were delivered with monotonous effectiveness. With Obama, the candidate and the campaign got it and they stuck to it. And they won.
Baseball fans are all familiar with the tale of the rookie season and the sophomore jinx. A rookie pitcher breaks into the major league and he seems, during his first time through the league, to be virtually un-hitable. But then, as the seasoned professionals have seen him a few times, he is suddenly hitable. He loses the mystique and he struggles. Sometimes they fade away to obscurity unable to adapt and sometimes they expand and grow and find new ways to fool their opponents and stay on top of their game.
President Obama shows all the signs of the sophomore jinx and, for now, few signs of the adaptation and growth necessary for a long and successful career in the major leagues.
I watched this weekend as the President took some time from his umpteenth vacation to sit down with the usual suscepts to deal with message. (No, I didn’t spell that wrong)
First President Obama was asked about a poll which showed that one in five Americans questions whether he is a Christian. His answer reveals. “I can’t spend all of my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead.”
The question was about his faith, his answer about his birthplace and citizenship. Regardless of what that tells you, it tells me something bad about this President. This type of remark has become all too commonplace in the last 18 months. A diversion. And a bad one.
So much of what made Obama seem un-hitable just 20 months ago now makes him seem aloof and unconcerned. His ballyhooed coolness, an attribute which wowed wispy conservatives, has now made just about everyone post-oil-spill (even James Carville), either baffled or bitter. Coolness in the face of your hardship is virtue, coolness in the face of others’ hardship–vice.
Even the President’s storied speechifying now grates. In speech after speech, his robotic tones reveal nothing. Let me be clear–they are, like his teleprompter, utterly predictable. During the critical healthcare debate, Obama grudgingly deigned to discourse on the topic and when he did his dictatorial tone revealed his impatience with having to tell us stupid children the same thing over and over when what he really wants to say is “Because I said so..” The problem was never their plan, it was always our collective inability to perceive its greatness. “The election is over, John.”
In fact the only time that we see any truth, any realness in Obama is when he is being thin skinned.
This brings me to another comment of the President this weekend. Asked about the “Restoring Honor” rally, Obama dismissed it saying “It’s not surprising that someone like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of [the American people.]” Regardless of what you think of Mr. Beck, hundreds of thousands of people on the mall praying for the restoration of this country is a big deal. Why not say that you share some of their concerns? Is that too much to ask? Aloof does not even begin to describe it. The president only served to solidify the opinion that many Americans share. He doesn’t care.
This president will do what he wants and will ask our opinion only when he wants it. Apparently, this is government of the people and bye people. His is the imperial presidency that many have feared. Controlling of the people while remaining steadfastly remote from them. President Remote Control.
Absent from any of Obama’s action or rhetoric is the ability to adapt to new realities. Without such adaption in approach or rhetoric, the American people will see each pitch for its rookie season sameness. President Remote Control will reveal himself as a flash in the pan and John and Jane Q. will reluctantly conclude that it is time to cut our losses.
Back in 2008, Obama and his campaign understood that message matters. What he fails to understand is that in 2010, it still does.