Be Careful What You Wish For

The war of ideas is being won by small government advocates. I'm beginning to think this is not such a bad thing. After all, if they can execute their ideas as well as they have presented them to us - organized, cogent, passionate, and relate-able - maybe they'll do a bang up job?

The phrase that embodies political posturing under the media big top is: "It's not just what you say, but you how you say it, and how often you say it, that matters."

Our President, a man who seemed capable of weekly miracles during his hopey campaign, now seems incapable of producing a single miracle that might translate some of his lofty rhetoric into something tangible and voter friendly. He is failing, in part, because it's impossible to propose pro-stimulus, pro-labor solutions with one hand, and legislate with the other hand as a moderate conservative, as he does. He surrounds himself with establishment Democrats, corporate and Wall Street insiders, and career military men, people who are the very antithesis of fresh, bold political decision making. These people are not fools, especially when looked at one by one, but too many of them in the same room creates a vacuum. This vacuum puts his approval rating at 30%, give or a take a few percentage points. His actions and decisions, very much his own, derive from perspective and advice from sensible, middle grounded establishment gurus . His deferral to these experts on issues is arguably the right thing to do, but oddly enough, it's part of the problem.

Our President's biggest problem is not one of inexperience, although, to be fair, his detractors were right about that: he is a relatively inexperienced politician. His biggest problem, as I have said time and time again, is temperament and judgement. The trauma this country currently endures - jobs, war, finance, the mortgage mess - requires a sensible, informed approach, and in this sense, Obama has it right. His problem is that he ignores the Clinton factor.

Bill Clinton won two terms as President mainly on the tone of his demeanor and of his campaign. Obama must tackle this country's floundering confidence, rising fear, and general malaise with the same empathy, emotion, and charisma, and unfortunately, these are ill-fitting traits for him. In another world, one where the media does not conduct the mood and manage the citizens' expectations, the President can afford to be as no nonsense and dispassionate as Obama. It has worked for past Presidents. Unfortunately, it is not the age we live in any longer. He seems disconnected from the unemployment rate problem for what it is: a human, moral, emotional issue. He instead lays it out like a math problem that needs solving, and goes about explaining the solution somewhat dispassionately. That said, his solution doesn't tell a convincing story, and it needs to if he wants anyone to listen.

He fundamentally believes that people respond more to good sense and logic. Right now, they don't want sensible. They want relief. They don't want to be lectured. They want humility from their leaders, and they want a plan. They're scared. They're angry. People losing their jobs and homes and loved ones overseas don't want to be told how fundamentally decent they are. People want to know, instead, when the pain will stop, and how it will stop. Bottom line is, Obama's speechwriters need to stop filling in platitudes where empathy should go. 

It's no wonder, then, that angry gadflies like Rich Perry and Michelle Bachmann have crept into our consciousness. It almost makes no difference that they are fact-challenged at every turn, that they lie and obfuscate and engage in shameful hyperbole to score political points. It makes no difference even, in my estimation, that Obama is the better person. They are the politicians for the hour. They are the politicians that people need right now. Our President's acting like the politician for a more serene time. He stands in the middle of the typhoon and hopes his measured tones will quell it. His Administration's approach to dealing with every single public relations opportunity this year has been to squander it, sell it short, fill it with hot air, dial back, moderate, compromise, and scold. 

There must be a trick that a politician can use when he is as married to sensible, moderate hegemony as Obama. There must be a way to knock off the establishment Democrat barnicles and inject some life into a campaign that is hamstrung by ineffectively moderate or conservative approaches to everything from the stimulus, to the war, to civil rights, and to torture. If there is such a trick, he'd better come up with one soon, or his historic Presidency will end with a soft, wet thud and an age of limited Government will sweep in.

While Obama is proving himself unworthy of being the politician or President for our times, he also finds himself caught in a trap beyond just the limitations of his fanatical faith in dispassionate, moderate common sense. The national media is also to blame. This 'media' I speak of - a conglomeration of cable news, talk radio, hosts, their writers, their editors, the headlines and narratives they concoct - is largely spurred on by profit, not politics.

The mood of the people is now effectively enslaved to the news cycle and whipped into a fearful lather, a mood shaped by way the media frames stories for maximum impact. In this age, people require and demand another sort of figurehead, one who acts as a vessel for their frustration and anxiety, one who gut speaks like Bush Jr. or Perry, one who tosses out simple platitudes and simplistic analogies to soothe and reassure the populace. These gut speakers do so at truth's peril, but they get the public's pleading attention when they do.

Public figures like Rick Perry - he is, some feel, an uninformed liar and a charlatan - were created by and for the modern media, and the expectations of public consciousness that arise from it. In that sense, Obama is caught in the crossfire of how expect our leaders to act, behave and feel. Some of these expectations are unfair and unreasonable, but it's the world we live in. Our President's failure to adapt or even acknowledge this would be admirable if it didn't ignore political reality.

The consequences of all of this will be profound. If the system continues to shine the spotlight on candidates who exist solely to sell sensational narratives, and if the expectations and needs of the citizenry are not managed or molded, a new age is truly upon us, one in which dangerous and unchecked fanaticism is the default course.


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