On Friday, John Podhoretz wrote, “Something weird happens when presidencies go wrong — presidents become incompetent at doing the things they were always able to do in their sleep, and their aides follow suit.”
I noted this when I wrote my first book, Hell of a Ride, about the decline and fall of the first President Bush, back in 1993. When Bush spoke, it rained, and his advancemen weren’t quick-thinking enough to move his events indoors. When he went to Japan on a state visit, he vomited. He was so intent on getting out his message of the day that he referred to it as “Message: I Care.”
Obama is heading in that direction right now. It’s hard to imagine what could have possessed him to take to the microphones this morning to claim that the unemployment numbers released this morning were “positive news” and that the “economy is moving in a positive direction” when the unemployment rate rose a tenth of a point.
And that was before Obama’s “they talk about me like a dog” whine today, and before a more permanent gaffe was spotted by Jamie Stiehm of the Washington Post on Saturday:
A mistake has been made in the Oval Office makeover that goes beyond the beige.
President Obama’s new presidential rug seemed beyond reproach, with quotations from Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. woven along its curved edge.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” According media reports, this quote keeping Obama company on his wheat-colored carpet is from King.
Except it’s not a King quote. The words belong to a long-gone Bostonian champion of social progress. His roots in the republic ran so deep that his grandfather commanded the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington.
For the record, Theodore Parker is your man, President Obama. Unless you’re fascinated by antebellum American reformers, you may not know of the lyrically gifted Parker, an abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker who foresaw the end of slavery, though he did not live to see emancipation. He died at age 49 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.
At the American Thinker, Thomas Lifson opines on what such a gaffe says about the president:
Apparently, Obama himself believed the quotation to be from King. Stiehm writes:
My investigation into this error led me to David Remnick’s biography of Obama, “The Bridge,” published this year. Early in the narrative, Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, presents this as “Barack Obama’s favorite quotation.” It appears that neither Remnick nor Obama has traced the language to its true source.
The error perfectly encapsulates the shallowness of Barack Obama’s intellect and his lack of rigor. Obama is a man who accumulated academic credentials while giving no evidence whatsoever of achieving any depth. He was the only president of the Harvard Law Review to graduate without penning a signed article in that esteemed journal. His academic transcripts remain under lock and key, as do his academic papers.
For the sort of people like David Brooks of the New York Times, who are impressed by fancy degrees and a sharp crease in the trousers, Obama may appear to be the smartest-ever occupant of the Oval Office. But, as the old joke goes, deep down, he is shallow. Underfoot, literally, there is woven into his background a prominent vein of phoniness.
For some reason or other, Obama has been able to skate through academia and politics without ever being seriously challenged to prove his depth. A simple veneer of glibness has been enough to win the accolades of the liberal intelligentsia. But now that he has actual responsibilities — including relatively trivial ones like custodianship of the inner sanctum of the presidency — his lack of substance keeps showing up in visible, embarrassing, and troubling ways.
Meanwhile, Bookworm Room explores the opposite of hauteur and pretension — basic common sense.
But while journalists from both parties have debated the authenticity of the quotes in the Oval Office, some of the more reactionary have even questioned the timing of the president’s redecorating efforts themselves, particularly on the eve of an epic midterm struggle, and with a flat-lined economy and massive unemployment. Get a load of this quote:
“There are times where you can afford to redecorate your house, and there are times where you need to focus on rebuilding the foundation.”
How dare they talk about the president like he’s a dog! Who was the evil rethuglican rightwing neocon deathbeast who would trash the leader of the free world in such a fashion?
Newly-elected President Barack Obama, in February of 2009.