I offer a ten-step healing program for our president in the spirit of our therapeutic age.
I am trying to be disinterested here, with no particular interest in what follows of either seeing his recovery in the polls, or even watching them sink further. My aim is only to point out how and why he is turning off thousands by the day.
1) Impose a moratorium on all the racial talk. After the beer summit, the “stupidly,” the “stereotyping,” the “cowards,” the Van Jones rants, the “wise Latina,” the suing Arizona, the exempting the Black Panthers, the al-Qaeda-as-racists (e.g., nine years after 9/11 we at last have a reason to really hate these terrorists), etc., we get the message that race permeates the presidential worldview — and that all issues, from those of terrorism to policing to immigration to the environment, are seen largely through racial us/them lenses. This obsession has turned off an increasing multi-racial nation, and is reaching the point of caricature. Take a deep breath, Mr. President, and promise to go through one day without self-referencing yourself as black, without speaking to an identity-politics group, and without reviewing the American past in terms of race. Just one day …
2) I’d quit the golf for a while — and for two reasons. The left made the argument that golf is an aristocratic waste of time, our version of upper-class fox-hunting, as a perquisite to the narrative of a carefree Bush — alligator shirt, shades, bright slacks, colorful cap, swanky loafers — on the links while the country was mired in crises. OK, we got that message. And so now, fairly or not, a polo-shirted Obama putting around amid the spill, two wars, and depression-like economics seems, well, narcissistic and self-indulgent. And whereas Bush quit teeing off, Obama won’t, and has already trumped in 18 months his predecessor’s aggregate links outings. Will we hear a “Bush did it” on golf too — as if the evil W. cleverly created a paradigm in which presidents are now forced to play golf when they should not? Try bowling instead.
3) Don’t make any more appointments. Simply quit while you’re behind. These offices are better left unfilled. After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, Steven Chu, Hilda Solis, Eric Holder, Charles Bowden, and Donald Berwick, we got the message already: Illegal immigration is OK; farming is not. We are all racial cowards and should feel bad; Muslims in contrast should be made to feel good. Redistribution is good — Mao was even better; and George Bush was in on 9/11. In short, Obama is incapable of not appointing someone who is both hard left and unhinged in his expression of such ideology. It would be safer simply not to plant these figurative liberal land mines, since they will all inevitably go off at one time or another. Empty seats are better than empty suits.
4) With all due respect and in complete candor, I would not send Michelle Obama out anymore. After the “downright mean country,” “never been proud of my country before,” and “raise the bar” tropes of the campaign, we thought she would, as did past first ladies, speak about literacy, or her own interest in curbing childhood obesity. But now she’s been unfettered twice on the political circuit: once to speak on behalf of Sonia Sotomayor when she immediately went into a “poor me” riff on how hard it is to go to Princeton on a full ride (“And for me, the voices came from people who at first told me, ‘Don’t bother applying to Princeton, not a school like that,’ because they said I’d never get in. Then when I got in, they told me not to go because I wouldn’t be able to compete against students who would be more prepared. And then when I decided to attend, they told me that I shouldn’t go to a school so far away from home because I would have a hard time making friends; I would feel out of place and I wouldn’t make it through. Voices of people sowing seeds of doubt in my head.”). And now she revs up the NAACP on the eve of its slander against the tea party movement. Fairly or not, the image of the first lady is of someone who vents deep-seated anger, partly over her own unease that she has not quite earned her laurels, partly as a way to enhance career advancement. In short, if one were worried about the president’s tendencies to blame others, sending Michelle out is homeopathic quackery.
5) Just do not mention America in the abstract anymore. After 18 months, we know that the president simply cannot reference our founding without a “but.” He seems to have forgotten that 600,000 killed each other or died 150 years ago over slavery. The Argonne, Okinawa, and Inchon are not in his lexicon. Nor is the greatest economy and defender of freedom in civilization’s history. Edison, Bell, the Wright Brothers — they might as well be Martians. If it is a question — and it sadly always is — between evoking America as dropper of atomic bombs, genocidal hegemon, enslaver, racist, anti-Muslim, etc., and not evoking America at all, then please stay quiet. Our grandmothers tried to teach us: “If you can’t say something occasionally nice, then don’t say anything at all.” He should heed that. A simple truth that we all learned in kindergarten escaped Barack Obama: America’s sins are simply those of all humankind; but only in America is the sprit of self-critique and collective betterment such that we daily strive to address and solve our innately human shortcomings rather than accept them or give into them. Instead, Obama seems to have been taught that if America alone is not perfect, then it is essentially not very good. Millions of us wince now when the president starts in on the U.S. in the abstract, since we know anything positive will always be qualified by “nevertheless,” “however,” “yet,” and “but.”
6) Either stop living up the good life or stop demonizing others who do. OK — if you believe Vegas is bad, doctors are greedy limb-loppers, insurance people are con artists, and the tea partiers unwholesome “tea-baggers,” then please no more jetting around on your private jumbo jet in times of economic crisis. Don’t serve aristocratic meals and bring in celebs for private shows. In short, the president is figuratively trying his best to talk of two nations and still live in John Edwards’s house, to lecture down in the fashion of Al Gore from his nice energy-guzzling nest, and to be a John Kerry man of the people from 11 estates. The high life and blue-collar rhetoric don’t mix. In these tough times, if Obama wants to sound like Harry Truman, then now and then live like Harry Truman rather than some zillionaire Silicon Valley geek. If he wants to sermonize like Jimmy Carter, then at least get the props right of the cardigan sweater and dialed down thermostat.
7) Please, no more “Bush did it.” Stop the daily two-minutes of hate against our new Emmanuel Goldstein. Bush is 19 months gone; no one forced President Obama to borrow $3 trillion, to nationalize health care, or to scare business with the neo-socialist talk of income-, FICA-, and health-tax increases, and government takeovers that helped send unemployment from 7% to 10%. Bush reacted to 9/11 by going into Afghanistan and passing the Patriot Act without daily blaming Clinton for his appeasing of radical Islam. Nothing so diminishes a president as the trait of scapegoating a predecessor; nothing so erodes his stature as the teenage habit of blaming someone else for one’s self-inflicted problems. Enough already. We’ve gotten to the point now that the audience cringes when Obama cites what he has done, as it mutters to itself: “Here comes the ‘Bush did it.’” And, of course, it always comes just as we feared.
8 ) No need either for more of the Muslim thing. We learned on day 1, 19 months ago, that the president would reference his Muslim heritage (e.g., “I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.”) to al Arabiya in a way that was taboo during the campaign. And after the Cairo mythmaking, the rantings of John Brennan, the new euphemisms, the “America is the problem” (e.g., “All too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved.” ), and the NASA lunacy, we understood that the problem is our purported not being nice to Islam rather than radical Islamists trying to kill us out of existential hatred. I would cut the Muslim therapeutics out; there is simply no need to cite your middle name as the real reason Israelis are not fond of you. None at all.
9) Don’t mention deficits, debt, spending — anything to do with money. Three trillion dollars in new debt cannot be explained or blamed away. Better simply not to mention it, and talk of cutting $10 million here and there. Every time the president speaks of the debt, he does so in the context that Bush’s $500 billion last deficit forced him to borrow $1.7 trillion, or that “stimulus” is somehow not borrowing, or that deficits seem to be good since they will gorge the beast and force higher taxes, an intrinsic redistributive good in its own right.
10) Take a breather on the green agenda. Al Gore imploded, both from revelations about his personal life and the labyrinth of his financial machinations. Climategate discredited academic finger-pointing. Promises about “skyrocketing” power bills don’t go well with a recession. The old “millions of new green jobs” wonkery is a bad joke from a college bull session. Nuclear, natural gas, clean coal, and drilling in ANWR have more resonance than subsidized wind and solar jobs at a million or so in federal subsidies each.
Will Obama adopt any of my suggestions? No, of course not. Why? Because he is pushing an agenda that 55-70% of the American people do not want, and so it is necessary to evoke the kitchen sink to get it across: Bush did it, the oil cadre did it, racialist America, Islamophobia, “them,” a cool hip president, raise the bar — all that is a desperate (albeit doomed) way of venting, threatening, pleading, and pushing a blueprint that on its merits goes nowhere.