Published July 16, 2012
A former editor of The New York Times once damned his boss, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., with faint praise. “I’ll say this about Arthur,” said Max Frankel, “he’ll never make the same mistake three times.”
If only we could enjoy such modest confidence in Barack Obama. Instead, we are faced with a president determined to make the same mistake repeatedly, no matter how much pain it causes American families.
As such, Obama would seem to meet the classic definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Or perhaps he’s actually indifferent to the results, seeing them as a price others must pay for his agenda.
Neither diagnosis offers much hope for change.
The spark for these thoughts was Obama’s interview with CBS News, where he “confesses” that his biggest mistake was a failure to communicate, or, as he puts it, “to tell a story to the American people.”
“When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well,” the president said, “the mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”
Obama, as is his wont, has reality backward. His problem with voters isn’t what he did or didn’t say. The problem is what he actually did.
Voters don’t like it. In Madison Avenue terms, it’s not the fault of the advertising that the dog food’s not selling. It’s that the dogs don’t like the dog food.
Obama has trotted out the communication excuse before, and it makes no more sense this time. Most important, his minor concession to imperfection reveals he is unwilling or unable to grasp the facts of the economic crisis and his responsibility to fix it.
So we get navel gazing that would be considered indulgent even in the faculty lounge. In the Oval Office, with 23 million Americans out of work or underemployed, it constitutes evidence of malpractice on a grand scale.
Worst of all, his ignorance is willful. Starting with key gubernatorial races in 2009, every major election since he took office has repudiated Obama’s policies. The GOP landslide in 2010 was historic in size, as was the sweep in statehouses across the country.
Every poll for three years has shown that ObamaCare is unpopular, and that remains true even after it passed constitutional muster.
He sued the state of Arizona for enforcing laws against illegal immigrants, and, after the Supreme Court upheld the state’s key claim, more than 60 percent of voters nationwide said they wanted a law like that in their state. Similarly, voter-ID laws are popular, yet he is suing to block them.
By any yardstick, Obama’s on the losing side of almost every major domestic issue. The vast majority of Americans simply don’t want what he’s selling.
In the president’s messianic view, all this opposition proves his unique wisdom. His political philosophy can best be summed up as, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” When he says his only mistake was in not convincing people he’s right, he has declared disagreement to be ignorance.
In certain circumstances, of course, political leadership can mean bucking popularity. But the privilege comes with a requirement: Defiance of public will must be proved correct. Your policies must, in reasonable time, achieve results the public demands.
When they fail — think 8.2 percent unemployment for more than three years amid rising debt and deficits — a true leader accepts the need to try a different course. Only a zealot, blinded by ideology or indifference, would insist on more of the same.
A story, Mr. President? What could it possibly say?
To continue reading Michael Goodwin's column on other topics, including New York City's mayor and the Big Gulp controversy, click here.