Denial is a powerful influence in public life. It is obviously a major influence in the Obama administration, which may explain why a Republican Party and conservatism which were declared dead institutions and philosophies have risen as a phoenix with life and vitality.
In response to Scott Brown’s remarkable Senate victory in Massachusetts, President Obama said, “The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.”
Here is the "blame George W. Bush" gambit yet again, even though Scott Brown is a Republican who ran against Obama’s policies in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
To make matters even more risible, the president went on to say, “If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of the sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values.”
Well, the question remains, what precisely did he get done?
He did get a stimulus bill through the Congress that has done nothing to stimulate national employment, even though that was the promise. For a man busy with getting stuff done — a curious rhetorical position — he had the time to deliver 411 speeches, 52 on healthcare alone, which by presidential standards is unprecedented. Moreover, the president, who often speaks of core values, ignores the obvious fact that so many Americans repudiate his healthcare bill because it imperils the core value of personal freedom to select a physician and treatment they prefer.
Instead of facing questions directly, the president invariably engages in scapegoating. If there weren’t a George W. Bush to rely on, he would have to invent one. Moreover, there is a barely veiled effort to suggest the public is angry, a kind of generalized anger unrelated to policy concerns.
What Obama cannot admit is that much of this anger is directed at him and his policies. Instead of a psychological response, he needs a mirror.
President Obama seems to believe that the personality cult he created during the campaign will carry over to his government. He is so busy doing good stuff that he lost focus. Does that include vacationing in Hawaii, dates with Michelle in New York, frequent appearances on the golf course, and basketball games in the White House gym?
The president doesn’t have a communications problem, he has a credibility problem. The issue with this White House is competence. Is this president competent to govern, is the question that has emerged in recent campaigns in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. That is something the president either doesn’t understand or, as I see it, chooses to deny.
Comments that ignore the obvious political reality only make White House denials seem petty and foolish. Perhaps the president actually took seriously the fatuous New York Times editorial that the Scott Brown victory was not an indictment of the Obama administration. Democratic Senator Jim Webb certainly sees things differently. He called the Massachusetts race “a referendum not only on healthcare reform, but also on openness and integrity.”
At this point, the president desperately needs a large dose of humility. It is discomforting to have a president so reluctant to listen to what Americans are saying.
Instead of being obliged to consider his positions based on the Brown victory, President Obama seems to be feeling sorry for himself since the public doesn’t appreciate the “good stuff” with which he is preoccupied. As I see it, humility is a good way to attempt to resuscitate this presidency along with a sustained reality check.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books).
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