Obama’s morning after plan

2010-11-06 15:25

There’s one thing I hope Barack Obama dumps when the Wednesday-morning hangover clears, it’s all that talk of changing Washington.

A president who thinks he can change Washington is as misguided as a new studio head thinking he can change Hollywood.

He may say he’s arrived to foster new ideas and adapt the great novels he was raised on, but he will still wind up doing Pirates of the Caribbean IV or succumbing to some bollixed-up development process that ends in tears or a frightful Nicolas Cage movie.

Voters seem to understand what a big waste of time it is to try to change Washington.

After a brief love affair with the new possibilities Obama represented in the 2008 campaign, the electorate has turned its attention elsewhere to try to get things done – through makeshift projects developed by enterprising ­mayors, by joining the Tea Party movement, by turning to comedians to express their point of view en masse or by forging private-public partnerships to spawn social innovation that has as little as possible to do with the local hated congressman.

Obama has, as he wanly insists, accomplished a lot in the past two years: he ended torture, got us out of Iraq, extended healthcare and prevented another Great Depression – all with absolutely no help and nothing but obstruction from people who are about to collect big political ­rewards.

Which is why it irritated me to find him observing in Peter Baker’s excellent profile in the October?17 New York Times magazine: “I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection of policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting marketing and PR and public opinion.” Roger to that.

Amazing that Obama, possessed of the bully pulpit of the presidency, is musing here about having forgotten as core a political value as bringing the public along.

Starting on Wednesday, I’d like the president to stop being so high-minded about avoiding corny symbolic theatrics and start playing to win.

The absurd myth, for instance, that he’s really a Muslim would be easier to knock out if he strode from the White House every Sunday with a big old Gutenberg Bible and marched his family – with the first daughters in adorable Sunday best – to the nearest Episcopalian church.

Back in his Chicago Senate days, when he was seeking greater black credibility, Obama was happy enough to ­attend the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ.

What’s wrong with a bit of God-fearing symbolism of a different kind now?

There was a reason Hillary Clinton showed up at the weekly Senate prayer breakfasts when she was trying to network across the aisles. Worshipping in private, as Obama does, comes off as just another form of annoying elitism.

And then there is the vaunted fury of the business world. Some of that is stoked by dissing so many of its egotisitical leaders.

 When Obama had them over to the White House, he should at least have scratched his chin and pretended to listen to their views on the economy, instead of, as one brand-name entrepreneur told me recently, seeming “to be just checking the box”.

When the Business Roundtable came over to moan, it didn’t endear him to them that he read a speech about the economy at them, then pissed off without glad-handing.

Until Warren Buffett’s visit to the White House in July, the seer of Omaha, who endorsed Obama before he became president, hadn’t been asked back in 18?months to give his views on the dire state of the job market. That’s rude as well as clueless. The guy knows a thing or two about finance.

Obama may think that donors who pout if they don’t get perks beyond the satisfaction of knowing they’re helping their country are jerks, but social access, as Bill Clinton knew all too well, is a golden tool.

A night in the Lincoln Bedroom is a better deal for the public than a zillion-dollar rich-guy tax break or a fat no-bid contract, which is what the Republicans offer.

On the cultural-symbolic front, Obama has failed too to make the grand gesture.

Think of how meek his concert-and-arts initiatives have been compared with the ones Jackie Kennedy foisted on Jack. It’s strange to have a great writer-president who is mum on the arts.

I’ve never understood why Obama didn’t say that we’ve come to the end of the carnival of spectacle and selfishness and need to return to a republic of sanity and citizenship.

And then give honours to ordinary folks who have been good citizens first.

Rather than look with disdain at the vulgar theatrics of the Tea Party or try to capture the youth vote with an onslaught of cable-TV comedy shows, Obama should go broad, not niche;

megaphone, not dog whistle. Biggestures with a halo effect.

Along with all those books about ­Abraham Lincoln, Obama might do well to read some biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The general who established the Legion of Honor understood that people fought as much for medals as for morals.

» The Daily Beast / The New York Times Syndicate 

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