Entry from January 26, 2010

When Bob Herbert of the New York Times’s junior varsity of op-ed page lefties is writing about “Obama’s Credibility Gap,” you’d think it would be well past time for the President to sit up and take notice. “Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won’t be able to close it.” “In danger”? “Being perceived”? To some of us the “gap” has been a credibility chasm for a long time, but it has taken the political earthquake of the Massachusetts senatorial election, apparently, for Mr Herbert and others to notice it. The question remains as to whether it has even now come to the attention of the President himself and his inner circle.

In yesterday’s “Best of the Web Today,” The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto noticed an interview with a Democratic congressman from Arkansas, Marion Berry, who has recently announced his retirement. Rep. Berry gave an account of a meeting between Mr Obama and House Democrats on health care in which someone brought up the spectre of Hillary-care and its disastrous electoral consequences for the party in 1994. According to Congressman Berry, the President said: “Well, the big difference here and in ‘94 was you”ve got me.” Mr Taranto writes that “it sounds as though Obama became a follower as well as figurehead of his own cult of personality. He overestimated the degree to which he was special as opposed to lucky — a very human failing.”

It’s a persuasive argument. A similar note is struck by Bret Stephens in today’s Journal where he finds the most powerful evidence that the President has made the mistake of believing his own PR in his two failed trips to Copenhagen in the space of three months: first when he failed to win the 2016 Olympics for Chicago when his late arrival there only confirmed the failure of the “Climate Change” conference in December. That conference, says Mr Stephens,

was a chronicle of a fiasco foretold. In the run-up to the conference, dozens of press accounts noted the gaps between the otherworldly idealism of “Hopenhagen” boosters and the calculated realism of China and India. A politically rational president would either have stayed away or made an appearance at the beginning of the conference, so as to be far from the scene of the crime when it ended. Instead, the president chose to raise expectations by showing up at the end of the conference, as if he were sure that the magic would not fail him twice. It did.

That may also be true, but it does not necessarily follow that this is just what Mr Taranto calls “a human failing.” Rather, I think, the President has found himself locked by his fellow cultists into the unrealistic pose he adopted, with their encouragement, in order to get elected. Bob Herbert writes that:

Mr. Obama promised during the campaign that he would be a different kind of president, one who would preside over a more open, more high-minded administration that would be far more in touch with the economic needs of ordinary working Americans. But no sooner was he elected than he put together an economic team that would protect, above all, the interests of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, and so on.

You might argue that anyone na ve enough to believe in the whole hope ‘n’ change thing in the first place, including the President, deserves everything he gets, but Mr Obama’s dilemma is that he has nothing else to offer his followers to believe in. Unless he is palpably “a different kind of president” — by which Mr Herbert and the other cultists clearly mean a left-wing president — he has no constituency to be a not-different kind of president. In other words, I wouldn’t be looking for him to change anytime soon — not because he is incapable of seeing political realities as they are but because he has become the prisoner of his own cult of personality.

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