I’ve resisted until now much of the recent punditry that has centered around whether President Obama has been expressing the necessary passion, outrage and empathy that one had hoped for or even expected from their president throughout such jarring domestic turmoil. Among the magpies perched on the wire of passion patrol is one Michael Wolff, who recently reduced Obama to a B-team Jimmy Carter, and worse, took a scalpel to Obama’s distinguishing if not primary asset — his ability to talk his way, articulately and intelligently, out of anything.
In fact, Wolff proclaims now, “the man can’t talk worth a damn.” Plus:
“He’s cold; he’s prickly; he’s uncomfortable; he’s not funny; and he’s getting awfully tedious.
He thinks it’s all about him. That we want him for himself—that he doesn’t have to seduce, charm, surprise, show some skin.”
I’m still not convinced of this ego-centric caricature, but one thing I could recognize for myself in tonight’s televised press conference: Obama was bland and uninspiring. Bloodless is the word that repeats in my head. I do think he can still “talk worth a damn,” though I’m sure many a magpie will say he was wonkish to a fault tonight. Nevertheless, his critics have long attempted to make the “detached” label stick, and I’m afraid it might finally work — if tonight was any forecast.
Obama lacked the guts and fire and energy that is in such ready supply today over the radio waves, on the editorial pages, town council meetings — in the unemployment lines. Glenn Beck was crying again all over his show last month and we are still unsure why. If Obama meant to come off soothing, he was nearer to tone-deaf. After a television interview two days ago where he was accused of being “punch drunk” for some seemingly inappropriate giggling, this could spell PR quicksand come tomorrow.
The thing is, he was given a swell chance, more than once, to project himself straight out, over the heads of the equally detached, annoyingly conventional echo chamber that is the Washington press corps and into our living rooms to convince us otherwise. The most opportune was when Chuck Todd of GE-owned NBC/MSNBC asked what the American people could do to sacrifice in these fierce economic times (it was the second such question by Todd in two press conferences in which he seemed to suggest — or wanted the President to suggest – that the onus of failure and recovery was on “the people”).
Obama didn’t fall for the bait, he said something to the effect that people were sacrificing their share already, and with absolutely no change in facial expression, threw out a couple of rather lame references to people working without pay so that co-workers wouldn’t be laid off, and cutting back to send kids to college. But really — three taps on the keyboard will get you much more devastating ammo than that. Previously hard working people standing in line at unprecedented levels for emergency food assistance, waiting months for unemployment checks because of backlogs (this is happening in more and more states), not to mention forced “worker furloughs,” being the new craze in cost cutting measures sweeping both the public and private sectors — if he wanted sacrifice, he could have rolled out more weepers than Irene Dunne during the Great Depression.
Acknowledging this, and showing he was at least a little perturbed, if not passionately resolved, would have been a good first step in inspiring the nation’s flagging confidence and staving off the “Wolffes.” Short of calling him a “zombie,” I’d say he was more of an automaton tonight, which is good if you’re a big fan of Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’d say most of us prefer Captain Kirk, and there is a reason for that.