Rip Van Obama
President Obama went into a deep slumber in December. When he woke up this January, he found himself back even in the polls, with neither a press conference nor another overhyped presidential televised address to be heard. Sleep, quiet, and solitude — all that appears wiser than campaigning, visibility, and speaking, both for Obama and Americans. In short, the president has really hit on something: an Obama going into a Rip Van Winkle somnolent state might just mean waking up again as president.
If conservatives once alleged that Obama got elected as Being There’s Chauncey Gardiner — the empty vessel that all put their hopes and dreams in — they might complain even louder that he now plans on getting reelected as him as well, as if 2009-2011 were now a dream and we are back to fall 2007 when a political unknown proclaimed himself a new Lincoln declaring his candidacy from Springfield.
While the Republicans were tearing each other up in Iowa, to the delight of the liberal media, Barack Obama said not much at all from Hawaii. He did not have to, given that no Republican was offering a simple anti-Obama plan to drill for gas and oil as never before, repeal Obamacare, balance the budget, reform the tax code, and redo Social Security and Medicare. Instead his would-be opponents argued over who voted for what fifteen years ago.
We heard from the press and other Republicans in Iowa that Cain was a supposed womanizer, Romney a liar, Gingrich a blowhard and hypocrite, Perry clueless and tongue-tied, Paul a nut, Santorum a whiny complainer, Bachman a loser, and not much of anything about Huntsman. Who cares that the debt is hitting $16 trillion, the Iranians are enjoying our reset diplomacy, Iraq is heating up after our departure, and we are talking to the Taliban via the Muslim Brotherhood? Who mentions that our rendezvous with Obamacare is daily coming closer? Or that the Simpson-Bowles commission, the super-committee, and all talk of the debt is now but a distant, bad memory? Does it matter that Obama decided not to follow federal immigration law and will sue states that do? What are recess appointments when the Congress is not in recess? While Obama sleeps, all sorts of strange things do not.
As this circular firing squad went on in Iowa (strangest of all was the New Newt Gingrich’s 30-day new persona of senior statesman grandly proclaiming unity and civility — only to descend into the Old Newt proclaiming Romney a “liar”), each couple of days Barack Obama’s poll ratings inched back up. The more he kept out of the news and kept quiet, the more his negative and positive ratings went back in sync, until they are today about even, a radical shift in just about a month — and as a result of doing absolutely nothing. Do Americans sort of like Barack Obama the more that they do not see or hear much of him — at least while they hear too much of the Republicans ripping each other apart? After all, in 2008 with no record or much knowledge of his past, Obama The Idea was adored; in 2011 with a record and a fledgling history, Obama The Flesh and Blood was not. Why then not go into deep sleep, do nothing, let his surrogates loose, and let voters’ imaginations run wild with past fantasies and dreams — especially in comparison to the screeching of fratricidal Republicans that for now precludes any reexamination of a mostly disastrous presidential record since January 2009?
So we are seeing a glimpse of his reelection strategy. Obama by now knows that he cannot speak more than a few days without instinctively waging class warfare (fat cat, corporate jet owner, millionaires and billionaires, limb-lopping doctors, etc.) while offering some weird anti-capitalist rant (at some point we make enough money, now is not the time for profit, etc.). His habit is to polarize people by slurring them as “lazy” or “our enemies” or “stupidly” acting. Again, for most Americans, to listen to Barack Obama for a week is to grow uneasy with him.
But he can increasingly remain mute, while, on late Friday afternoons and amid raucous Republican infighting, dumping appointments and executive orders as a quiet leftist. Quite off the radar screen, Obama plans to let some detainees go from Guantanamo. He made recess appointments when Congress was not really in recess — of course, after, as a senator, once blasting George Bush for making real recess appointments. But who remembers anymore that the EPA is preparing to shut down power plants or Obama tabled a critical pipeline, as gas prices climb? Sometimes, as in the case of the Defense of Marriage Act, or the creditors of Chrysler, or immigration law, Obama simply decided that he, not the ratified law, was the ultimate adjudicator of right and wrong.
The new rope-a-dope Obama will avoid the sort of loud, messy lose/lose fight he had over the stimulus and Obamacare, and instead stay “presidential.” At some point even the American economy should start to rebound a little. And to the degree that Obama must speak to the public, it will be all hope and change banality — “working for you,” “restoring jobs,” “rebuilding the economy” — as well as his psychodramas about protecting the middle class from the Wall Street criminal class (perhaps like Jon Corzine, who gave $70,000 to Obama’s campaign and who cannot find over $1 billion of someone else’s lost money). Only the cranky and spiteful obstruct his labors by reminding Americans that the government now spends $1 trillion more per year than we did in 2008, the national debt is $4 trillion higher, we are borrowing almost $4 billion a day, and the average yearly unemployment rate of 2008 of 5.8% has skyrocketed under Obama’s to 9.6% in 2010. For Obama it is far better not to defend his record — as if it were not his record at all. Instead, loud illiberal boors have made all sorts of wild charges about supposed new debt and mythical high unemployment. What record? Do they mean Bush’s record from 2001 to November 2012? Conservatives rail at his vacations to Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard, and his 90 outings to the golf links. But Obama finally concluded that the more he is out of the public eye and mute, the more voters like the idea of Obama without having to suffer the reality of Obama.
To point out the president’s abject hypocrisies — he once blasted annual deficit spending, increasing the national debt, recess appointments, Friday afternoon news dumping, signing statements, revolving door lobbyists, earmarks, Guantanamo, tribunals, renditions, predators, and the Patriot Act and then simply adopted them all when he found them either useful for his own purposes or supported by a majority of the electorate — is to be mean and, of course, racist. In December, Eric Holder blamed congressional concern over his subordinates’ selling of guns to cartel murderers as proof of racist antagonism against both himself and President Obama. This week, an Andrew Rosenthal in the New York Times alleged that the subtext of the recent Republican criticism was racial bias, given his own creative deconstruction of supposedly coded rhetoric.
Obama in the past lambasted the police and alleged serial racial stereotyping; he called for Latinos to punish shared enemies, and he made a video appealing to voters on the basis of race. Holder called the nation cowards, and referred to blacks as “my people” (imagine John Ashcroft using that tribal term). Justice Sotomayor saw herself as a “wise Latina.” Van Jones had a long history of racist diatribes — though not in league with the president’s own minister. I could go on, but you get the picture: race-based invective from the Obama administration is a cry of the heart in unguarded moments that reflects centuries of oppression; tough talk against the Obama administration is a code for ongoing racist hatred. The formula I guess is supposed to be a winning one: stir up race by false calls of racism and then blast others as racists for noting the new surreal emphasis on race.
Sleeping to Victory
To sum up: we see here contours of the 2012 reelection. Obama’s handlers accept that there is no record to run on after inauguration, and earlier hope and change vacuities no longer earn mass audiences. They grant that in his unguarded moments Obama reverts off the teleprompter to his Chicago DNA of waging puerile class warfare. They even agree that his twenty-something speechwriters cannot be trusted not to slip into the teleprompter something stupid like the ahistorical Cairo Speech or faux-Teddy Roosevelt diatribe.
But they do know the president is the president, at least sorta. He photographs well and can be generalizer-in-chief effectively. If he is tired and outsources his policies to others, he still can make recess appointments and do lots of things without congressional scrutiny that will keep the base happy. He is the first African-American president that makes the country proud and can be alleged to make all sorts of closet racists furious. He talks well when teleprompted on the banal and mundane, and now he is dead even in the polls. He can run for reelection in the manner he is now governing — tired, sleepy, mostly quiet, an occasional Skype message to the faithful to remain faithful.
What got Obama to the presidency was being a man without a past or present, Chauncey Gardiner of Being There — without a college record, a medical record, a scholarly record, or much of a legislative record, the “smartest” president in history without having to say or do anything smart, who “busted hump” his entire life without any proof that he ever did any such thing, who proclaimed himself a greater president than all but three, but left nothing great in his wake, now or in the past. Obama had forgotten that winning non-persona for a time, and so after 2009 fooled himself into thinking out loud that at times he would play a real Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy, or Reagan.
But now Obama accepts what he was and always will be — Chauncey Gardiner.
And just being there is apparently the way to being president a bit longer.