Thursday, July 12, 2012

Because he can take it

Over at Daily Kos, brooklynbadboy wrote a diary about President Obama's response when Charlie Rose asked him about his biggest mistake since taking office.
"When I think about what we've done well and what we haven't done well," the president said, "the mistake of my first term - couple of years - was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." Mr. Obama acknowledged the dissonance between others' perception of his strength as an expert orator, and his own.

"It's funny - when I ran, everybody said, well he can give a good speech but can he actually manage the job?" he said. "And in my first two years, I think the notion was, 'Well, he's been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where's the story that tells us where he's going?' And I think that was a legitimate criticism."
I've gone a few rounds with brooklynbadboy over at DK because he's been a pretty harsh critic of President Obama's style. But he gives Obama credit on this one.
...a president who is willing to do what it takes, and who learns from mistakes and confronts them honestly, is certainly going to stand in good company when the histories are written.
Yep, being willing to face our shortcomings and learn from our mistakes is as good as it gets for us fallible human beings.

But someone named addikell took it to a whole other level in the comments. This rings so true to me about President Obama. It is where his true strength lies.
He's big enough to take it, take it ALL on his shoulders, even if a lot of it isn't his fault. He can take on the portion of the mistake that was the liberal failure to back him up and help create that story. He can take on the Republican racism and unprecedented undermining. He can take all that burden on himself and still be the best modern president the country has seen - because he knows Americans don't like taking the blame or the responsibility for their own divisiveness.

So he'll do it. Because he can take it.


  1. I can't help but remember GWB visibly struggling for an answer when asked (in 2004) to name even a single mistake he'd made as President. (He finally said he might've "trusted the wrong people". Poor George.)

    I've got a few bones to pick with Pres. Obama, but I'm looking forward to his second term.

  2. I love the comment from addikell, though it has a strong “cult of personality” flavor to it. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama, and I agree with the commenter that he’s big enough to take personal ownership of collective failures. But I think we need to guard against beatification of our heroes, as observation of the authoritarian right convinces me this hero worship retards critical evaluation of policy.

    But the particular thing about addikell’s comment I thought was most worthwhile is the point about the general failure of progressives, Democrats, liberals –all those in support of the idea of Change and Hope on a national scale—to take part in the construction of the narrative for which the President has provided a framework. This is what led to the teahadist wave of 2010, not the President’s failure; PBO has been politicking right from the start of his job, even during those first 20 months when he wasn’t providing the narrative. He just kept his face too long toward Congress, instead of the nation, trusting perhaps that these feckless representatives would… represent their work back to their districts and states. Meanwhile most progressives with internet or airwave platforms were working on the same hoary, smug finger-wagging opposition narrative of the Bush years or constructing other storylines about disappointment, blue dogs and our “pre-capitulating” President.

    I don’t know that many on the DK front page understand Barack Obama’s narrative framework even now. Diarist brooklynbadboy still misses the point, certainly. When POTUS describes wanting to tell a story that gives “a sense of unity and purpose and optimism”, I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about the type of “campaigning mode” with “full war paint” and “nasty, brutal” political work envisioned in the diary. The diarist is absolutely correct that politics cannot be separated from policy, but this is an almost tautological consequence of democratic government. The type of politics the President plays –consistently and with constant effort—is inclusive of participation from ALL stakeholders. As it should be; as the man’s mentioned more than a few times, he’s President of the United States of America, not of his party.

    That’s the unifying and hopeful story Obama wants to tell, and that’s where he needs the support. The right wing will continue to provide plenty of contrast, and we commenters, pundits or various mouthpieces from the left should help throw a floodlight on their efforts to tear down and polarize this country. But we should throw equal effort behind the President’s “conciliation as ruthless strategy” (can’t thank you enough for putting this phrase out there, Ms. Smartypants!). It’s not only a winning political strategy, history indicates it’s the only way a democratically structured government can move out of a time of intense one-sided political extremism without large scale social upheaval. Riots and ruin may be good television but reluctant ugly compromise at least keeps the concept of a common goal in play.

    1. Dayum! I LOVE it when commenters here push and prod things I've posted to whole new heights. Thanks so much Botelho.

      The caution about heroes is something I felt when I posted this. And yet there was something so deeply true about what adikell said that I couldn't resist.

      In the light of day - here's what I think grabbed me...

      The idea that a man who is constantly under attack (by both the left AND right) is strong enough to reflect so deeply on his own shortcomings rather than rail in defensiveness just simply amazes me. That kind of strength is uncommon - at least in my experience.

      I want to be wary of hero worship. But I'm also very inspired by someone who is not perfect - but has just demonstrated that he's a lot stronger than I am.

      On the rest of your comment...hell to the YES!

    2. I remain convinced that the best way to understand the President is through the lens of his religious practice. At one point he found himself in church, and found himself at home. What did he find? Black Liberation Theology, which is all about the liberation of all human beings. It really is, and if you've ever been in a church infused with it, you've felt that it's real.

      It is no accident that all of the successful radical social movements in the US have been religious. Why? Because radical churches provide the kind of support to people that they need to face death, and you need to be able to face death to make real change. A Black man running for President, Obama faced death (and does still). Turning the other cheek as he does--I won't parse out the radical meaning of the phrase, a great sermon of which I heard once from Don Guest, a thoroughly radical pastor in San Francisco--takes spiritual strength.