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Mr. Magoo Goes to Washington

“Mr. Magoo,” my friend said: “He’s like the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, stumbling around blindly, somehow avoiding the open manholes, careening buses, and other deadly  hazards that surround us.”

We were talking about Barack Obama, his petulant prose poem to higher taxes — a.k.a., his speech on the deficit last week — as well as his unscripted comments to Democratic donors (“You think we’re stupid?”) and his attack on Paul Ryan’s budget proposals over the weekend.

“To restore fiscal responsibility,” he said, “we all need to share in the sacrifice —  but we don't have to sacrifice the America we believe in.”

As his dismal rankings in the polls show — every week, it seems, the headline reads “Obama’s Approval Hits New Low” — the bloom is off the rose.

The bloom is gone, the magic dissipated (remember: “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow”?).  And what’s left?

My friend and I were pondering that. Arrogance.  That’s one thing that’s continued unabated — a function, I suggested, of the Magoo myopia.

And then the penny dropped.  Obama’s arrogance is often remarked upon, even by his less starry-eyed  supporters. Arrogance, a chilly disconnection with common reality. (Don’t like the price of gas? Buy a new, smaller, more  fuel-efficient car. How many kids do you have, for God’s sake?) Some diagnose narcissism. Maybe so.  But here’s the extraordinary thing:

Obama actually believes he is doing a good job.

That thought struck me like a thunderclap. It seems improbable, I know. And I don’t discount for a second the thuggishness and habit of calculation ingrained by his Chicago background and cronies. But watching Obama perform these last weeks, I suspect that there is something more than political calculation behind his brittle contempt for his GOP opponents, his Marie-Antoinette disdain for ordinary Americans, his tone-deaf self-absorption and sense of entitlement. What is it?

The delusion of competence.

Listen to those off-the-cuff remarks, linked above, to some of his high-rolling donors: Obama actually seems to believe that his disastrous policies have made things better. $14-point-something trillion in federal debt (excluding unfunded entitlement liabilities).  A current deficit north of $1.6 trillion. (How easy it is to inscribe those numbers: how difficult to comprehend the misery they portend.) Soaring gasoline prices.  Food prices skyrocketing.  Real unemployment above 10 percent. The housing market in the tank. Inflation churning ominously in the wings. The flight, internationally, from the dollar (“The Toxic Dollar: Why Nobody Seems to Want U.S. Currency”). **UPDATE** This just in: Standard and Poors moves  the U.S. long-term credit rating from "stable" to "negative": that crashing sound you hear are the markets reacting.

In short, a litany of disaster — a sort of Napoleon’s-retreat-from-Russia scenario but without the consoling prelude of strategic brilliance.

And it’s not just the economy that is suffering. In foreign affairs, Obama’s combination of sanctimoniousness, on the one hand, and indecision, on the other, has made the U.S. a worrying laughing stock on the world stage. Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?  Can we tell the difference?