Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obama's Presidency: A Colossal Failure

Below, you'll see Rex Murphy's superb column in the Toronto Globe and Mail. His point -- and who would dispute it? -- is that, not-yet-one-year-into-the-Obama-presidency -- we are already tired of the preposterous man who occupies the White House. Whatever or whoever you might be, Barack, all we ask is that you be gone.

I think Time went to the relatively faceless functionary Bernanke mainly not to name Barack Obama. Time, like a lot of its fellows in the wild world of the contemporary U.S. media, is in an awkward place with regards to Mr. Obama. Having devoted so much incense to his remarkable ascendancy, a great swath of his country's press is looking for a convenient and not too noticeable off-ramp while it – shall we say – recalibrates its enthusiasm.

It's an uncomfortable pivot from the audacity of hope to buyer's remorse. Very uncomfortable for those in the media who played the cheerleader for Mr. Obama, who skated by controversies that would have sunk other candidates or abandoned the ruthless investigations they would have pressed on less congenial candidates.

The ferocity they applied to the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, in contrast with the timidity they brought to his campaign, will in time come to be seen as one of the most shameful episodes in American journalism. Not so much for what they did to Ms. Palin, but for what they neglected to do in examining the candidate for the office that really counted. In some curious way, the U.S. media's bulldogging of Ms. Palin was kind of an inverted compensation for what they weren't doing to him.

Well, the bands have stopped playing for Barack Obama. At the end of 2009, the poll numbers have dropped mercilessly. He may yet get his health reform package, but only in the teeth of great public resistance. More Americans simply don't like what he's doing with health care than do. The great “cool” of Mr. Obama – essentially all those qualities that marked him as the non-George Bush, the anti-George Bush – is wearing a little thin now that Mr. Bush is really no longer a figure in play.

That cool now is seen as a troubling lack of affect, an unsettling passionlessness. What really, in his public role, captures or commands the fundamental energies of Mr. Obama? What are his core convictions and aspirations? It's very hard to tell.

His eloquence is fading, more people now find it more a trick of rhythm and cadence – a mannerism – rather than felt thought in memorable language. His recent statement to an anxious America after the Christmas Day bomb plot was flat, off-key and utterly unpersuasive. He went to Copenhagen, played the frantic for the better part of a day and came home essentially empty-handed. Hugo Chavez is mocking him in precisely the same terms as he mocked poor Mr. Bush.

Most of all, Mr. Obama has exploded his own credentials as the agent of (genuine) hope and change. The promise to remodel the essentially harsh nature of modern politics, to seek transformation in the tone and substance of public life, to end Washington's buying and selling, is seen now, and seen very reluctantly such was the real hope he inspired, as empty. His White House is as dagger partisan as Richard Nixon's.

Almost a full year into his presidency, Mr. Obama is at a dangerous point. His ability to inspire has all but departed. The novelty of his historic ascension is over. And, late though it be, there are now questions about his effectiveness. As there are also doubts about whether that magnificently cool presence – his much-touted ability to distance himself from the turbulence and passions of those around him – springs from a fear of being overwhelmed by events rather than a confidence in mastering them.

No wonder Time gave him a pass.

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