Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wizard of Uz

Every President has certain personal characteristics that become part of his public identity. For instance, think of Jimmy Carter's toothy smile, Reagan's tendency to ramble, or the odd way with English that both Bushes displayed.  These characteristics are, of course, sometimes used in taunting by a President's detractors.

To me, one of the defining things about Obama is his extreme reliance on teleprompters.  Without them, he seems lost addressing any crowd bigger than a coffeehouse poetry group.  When he is forced to speak impromptu, as in interviews or press conferences, his speech slows to short phrases, often punctuated by uh's or mangled words as he struggles to get his thoughts out of his mouth.  

Speaking off-the-cuff isn't easy for a lot of people, of course.  Obama does have any good politician's requisite ability to pose straw man arguments and avoid answering questions.  But what I've noticed most when I've read transcripts of his press conferences is how unorganized his thoughts are. This can be confusing to anyone trying to reconcile this trait with the claims many of his supporters have made about his alleged brilliance.

One area where he is direct and precise is when he expresses his disdain for his opponents.  From his "bitter and clingy" comments about middle-American voters during the campaign, to his "I don't want to hear a lot of talking [from Republicans]" during the Obamacare runup, it is clear that he has little regard for anyone who disagrees with his agenda.  Now in recent days we have this gem from his press conference about the tax rates deal:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me use a couple of analogies. I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

It's a real stretch to compare elected Senators and Congressman engaging in legislative deliberation to "hostage takers."  Earlier in the same press conference he referred to hypothetical efforts by Republicans to obstruct his agenda as "bomb throwing."  This is a strange way for a President to talk about opponents who are taking some political risks of their own in making a deal with him (a bad deal, in my opinion).

The next few years are looking to be difficult ones for this country, domestically as well as abroad.  Some people might think it would be a good idea in times like these for a President to at least not make enemies unnecessarily, even if he can't actually make friends, so that he might have some breathing room in the event of a major crisis.  From what I've seen, though, that doesn't seem to be the sort of thought that crosses Obama's mind, and it could bring trouble for him eventually.

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