Monday, October 08, 2012

Why does this President sometimes act like a doormat?

It has been tempting since the President's disappointing debate performance last week to indulge in psychoanalyzing the guy. What is it about Obama that causes him to lapse, periodically, into what seems like passive accommodation when faced with people who are are out to destroy him? (See also the debt ceiling debacle.) I'm suspicious of this prying impulse; obviously we can't really know what is going on with a person so inward who inhabits such a remote bubble of a life. But I'll admit to being intrigued by some of the speculation.

Garance Franke-Ruta produced an empathetic specimen of this genre, suggesting that performing the role of a Commander-in-Chief ordering death and destruction is simply wearing Obama down.

A person of his temperament cannot maintain the same open demeanor when he's dealing with war and death all the time. As, we must recall, Obama has been for years now. If Obama seems shut down, perhaps it is because he has to be to be who he is and do the job he needs to do day in and day out. If his heart didn't seem in it last night, I wonder if it's not in part because the last thing he needs to consider in his work on a day-to-day basis is his heart. It's a long way from being a community organizer, civil-rights lawyer and anti-war state senator to running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that's led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat.

She may have something; the guy certainly seems too reflective to be able to let responsibility for all that carnage just bounce off him.

Harold Meyerson offers an even more interesting hypothesis about why Obama sometimes seems paralyzed:

Obama is the first president forced to confront the large-scale evisceration of the American middle class. Incomes for all but the wealthiest Americans had been stagnating for decades when he took office, but cheap credit had kept the middle class afloat. The year before he took office, however, that credit abruptly dried up. Obama’s challenge has been to get the real economy working again, which he’s tried to do in multiple ways: saving the auto industry, pushing for more investment in infrastructure, improving the quality of schools. But the offshoring and robotization of manufacturing, the rise of contingent employment, and the effective extirpation of unions in the private sector have reduced both the quantity and quality of American jobs. Solving these problems requires conceptualizing and actualizing policies that go well beyond the limits of current American politics.

The president understands all of this. ...

Does he understand all this? Much of what any of us are able to know and observe about our society depends on whether there are others around us who confirm that we are seeing something real. The President is surrounded by advisers and appointees who are in the business of not seeing this, who deal in technical fixes to the economy that attempt to paper over underlying inequities and dangers. He hasn't been at all hospitable to the chorus of economic gurus like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz who point to deep rot in the system. Moreover, nobody the President deals with every day has personal experience with the widespread collapse of economic hope that is the current norm; people who so far have profited from current economic arrangements have escaped into a different world from ordinary folk. Smarts can only take him so far into that reality.

If the 99 percent want a President who notices and remains conscious that our economic system has stopped working, we have to create our own understanding of what's wrong and ensure that our voices pervade what passes for debate. Most of our politicians have very little incentive to confront systemic economic failure, national and international inequity and violence, and our destruction of the planet's balance. The world, as it is, works for them. Leaders smart enough and generous enough to confront ugly realities will not be able to move in better directions unless they are surrounded by an aroused people who intelligently demand new directions. We aren't there, though of necessity, we're working on it.

Until then, Obama with his periodic brain freezes is about as good as we're going to get and we need to keep him in office for another term.


Rain Trueax said...

I think he faced another problem in this debate with Romney shifting all his positions. It is always hard to be talking to someone where you have no way to know what they'll come out and say. It might be it even made him angry and he wanted to hold that back as it would have led to even more recriminations from the right. not sure about the left who eviscerated him after it was over. Today I read from one of the undecideds how this one debate convinced him Romney really is a moderate. It amazed me but then who is undecided at this point? It convinced me Romney is a salesman and will say anything to get what he wants-- to be president. Heaven help us all if he gets it!

kathy a. said...

i agree with rain, that obama was inundated with this quick-fire barrage of lies at the debate; and it was important that he not come across as angry (but who wouldn't be?). obviously, it was impossible to respond to all of that, but i wish he'd found a bit more fire. i normally think he is a much stronger speaker than he was on wednesday.

obama's work as a community organizer took him places that i imagine are rarely seen by candidates for national office. his own modest circumstances in youth were also vastly different from what romney has ever experienced.

Damon said...


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