Ed Driscoll

Sleepwalking Through History

In the otherwise unfortunately Lileks-less new Ricochet podcast, Rob Long mentioned the incident at the president’s non-listening listening tour in Iowa this past week. The president engaged two Tea Party members who reminded Obama that his vice president had recently called them terrorists (a story whose source, very much Obama supporters themselves, still defends). As Rob noted, the president’s distant, aloof reaction sounded more like a cynical Times or MSNBC journalist or elitist leftwing university professor than a man elected to govern all of the people. That also ties in with Steve Green’s recent assessment that our Ivy League president was honestly shocked when his ’30s-era economic policies produced…’3os-era economic results.

Obama’s incident in Iowa brings to mind Richard Nixon’s legendary 1970 run-in with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial, from an era that Mickey Kaus described the other day:

I was a hippie–hippie adjacent anyway. I knew hippies. Hippies were friends of mine. They hated liberals. That goes double for the ’60s New Left. Liberals were the enemy, and many of the New Left’s critiques (e.g. of Big Labor/Big Government corporatism, interest-group politics and anti-participatory bureaucracies) were very similar to today’s Tea Party critiques.

Except that from all accounts, Nixon sounded far more desperate to emotionally connect with his protesters than the current president can be bothered with.

This could be because, as Allahpundit wrote yesterday, Obama’s bus tour wasn’t aimed at swaying all voters, merely the president’s disillusioned left-wing base:

If you’re wondering why Captain Civility spent most of his bus tour questioning the patriotism of congressional Republicans (without having the stones to name them, of course), this is why. It’s chum for liberals and left-leaning independents who might be temporarily disaffected by the debt-ceiling deal, even though he knows full well they’ll come around next year when the Democrats’ message team starts Palinizing the Republican nominee in earnest.

That sounds like something that could ultimately backfire, particularly because, as Allah writes later in his post:

I’ll leave you with this tantalizing tidbit from John Ellis, a.k.a. George W. Bush’s cousin: “A long-time Democratic politician told me the other day that he would not be ‘terribly’ surprised if Obama called it quits early next year. When I asked him if he really believed that, he said ‘no, not really, but you can smell it. It’s in the air around him.’” Smells like … demoralization.

That’s a topic that former tacit Obama supporter Peggy Noonan describes in her latest column:

The president shows all the signs of becoming a man who, around the time he unveils his new jobs proposal in September, is going to start musing in interviews about whether anyone can be a successful president now, what with the complexity of the problems and the forces immediately arrayed, in a politically polarized age, against any specific action. That was probably his inner rationale for not coming up with a specific debt-ceiling plan: Why give the inevitable forces a target? But his refusal to produce a plan became itself the target. Reverse Midas.

Under these circumstances he could not possibly be enjoying his job. On the stump this week in the Midwest, he should have been on fire with the joy of combat, he should have had them whooping and hollering with fresh material and funny lines. But even at his feistiest, he was wilted. Distracted. Sometimes he seems to be observing himself and his interactions as opposed to being himself and having interactions. His audiences wanted to show support, it was clear, that’s why they came. But there was something tentative in their response, as if they wanted to come through for the applause line but couldn’t figure out exactly where the applause line was. The president was dropping his g’s, always a terrible sign, a kind of bowing that assumes he speaks from a great height. He also started saying “folks” again. That too is a tell. It’s the word politicians who think they’re better and brighter than normal people use when they’re trying to make normal people think they’re normal.

But then, the optics for the president this week have been absolutely terrible — perhaps unless you’re part of his far left base, which is feeling like it’s being used for chum anyhow these days. Or as Mark Steyn writes in his latest op-ed:

By sheer coincidence, I happen to be writing a conspiracy thriller in which a state-of-the-art Canadian bus transporting President Michael Douglas on a tour of Minnesota goes rogue and takes over the government of the United States. Eventually, crack CIA operative Keira Knightley breaks in the rear window and points out to the Canadian bus that it’s now $15 trillion in debt. In a white-knuckle finale, the distraught and traumatized bus makes a break for Winnipeg, pursued by Chinese creditors.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Instead of demonstrating the common touch – that Obama is feeling your pain Clinton-style – the motorcade tour seemed an ingenious parody of what (in Victor Davis Hanson’s words) “a wealthy person would do if he wanted to act ‘real’ for a bit” – in the way that swanky Park Avenue types 80 years ago liked to go slumming up in Harlem. Why exactly does the president need a 40-car escort to drive past his subjects in Dead Moose Junction? It doesn’t communicate strength, but only waste, and decadence. Are these vehicles filled with “aides” working round the clock on his supersecret magic plan to “create” “jobs” that King Barack the Growth-Slayer is planning to lay before Congress in the fall or winter, spring, whatever? If the argument is that the president cannot travel without that level of security, I note that Prince William and his lovely bride did not require a 40-car motorcade on their recent visit to Los Angeles, and there are at least as many people on the planet who want a piece of Wills and Kate as do of Obama. Like the president, the couple made do with Canuck transportation, but in their case they flew in and out on a Royal Canadian Air Force transport described as “no more luxurious than a good motor home”: The shower is the size of a pay phone. It did not seem to diminish Her Royal Highness’ glamour.

I wish Gov. Perry well in his stated goal of banishing Washington to the periphery of Americans’ lives. One way he could set the tone is by foregoing much of the waste and excess that attends the imperial presidency. Believe it or not, many presidents and prime ministers manage to get by with only a 14-car or even a four-car motorcade. I know: Hard to imagine, but there it is. A post-prosperity America that has dug itself into a multitrillion-dollar hole will eventually have to stop digging. When it does so, the government of the United States will have to learn to do more with less. A good place to start would be restoring the lifestyle of the president to something Calvin Coolidge might recognize.

Coolidge? Didn’t he say that the best thing about his administration was that they minded their own business? If only we could find a similarly-minded man today