The President begins the New Year poised on the tip of balance; having exercised his deeply embedded desire for a last minute comeback--remarkable how the nation will cooperate with a psychological drive, as with our collective indulgence of Clinton's excesses, and our temporary joining with Bush in the sweeping denial that required a remarkable cognitive narrowing into a fantasy of simple strength, blindness, self-denial and protection.
This past year, Obama's eyes showed the hurt that has become all too notable as a Presidential characteristic--visible even during the campaign in his tetchy moments of being allowed to eat his waffles alone--the essential revelation that too few recognized of the inherently introverted nature of this President, and his continued base shock and hurt at a fundamental Presidential circumstance--like Clinton's impulsiveness, and Bush's narrowing to simplicity--of his Presidency: When I have done so much, and I am actually doing it on your behalf; when I have thought it through so well, and I actually mean it, intend my acts to rise above the partisan and do the best for the people, when I have actually approached it from this, rather than base political perspectives--how could you scorn it, how could you not want what has been done from the best of motives, from non-political motives--how could you reject what, unlike so much of what issues from the political world, represents sincere, well-thought out work that can be shown to be best for the common good?
He is hurt by the unwillingness of the world around him, scored by the base human motives that have existed since the beginning of human time, to change, to reach beyond these for a common good. He unlikely has met with a good deal of praise for such efforts, from his most fundamental shaping influences early in life onward--but a politician recognizes the motives and desires of others, accepts these as part of the work of persuasion that, however darkly, incompletely idealistic, inexorably human, is required in the work of leading a tired, hungry, imperfect, individually motivated group of humans together to action.
When others have discussed the "message" problem of the Obama Administration, they have failed to recognize that this has not been an error of omission--it has been a conscious choice that leads directly from the candidate and the ethos created by and around him. There is a desire to not engage in the dirty, manipulative salesmanship of self promotion--to have the work and its efforts to rise above partisanship towards the common good to stand on its own. The belief was that if work was done in this way, the people would recognize it as a new, cleansing reforming way of doing business--recognize the value of such work by its nature as non-partisan, crafted above this, for the people and the people's aims.
The idea was admirable, and, contrasted with the manipulations of the Bush Administration, an understandable impulse that one might hope could actually be employed.
But politics are complex, messages are multiple, and people need to have them made clear to understand them, particularly when being roused by the continuing, growing voices of manipulative, self-serving intent. These voices didn't simply stop with the end of the Bush Administration--they went elsewhere, into the Tea Party and their affiliates. Their willingness to stoke the rage of the public with the usual animating distortions was to be expected and a part of the work ahead.
It is possible to both have a non-manipulative, non-distorting message machine--and to provide a persuasive, powerful message. To do so, the Administration cannot simply expect the public to recognize the value of its work amidst a sea of well-crafted effects intentionally designed to lead the public away from the truth.
Obama cannot sulk over his waffle. This sea of human action and reaction, of motive and distortion, will continue. He must engage the battle of message reality over message distortion, with the energy and enthusiasm that he has brought to crafting his legislative work, indeed, recognizing that doing so is the necessary final stage of such work--without which one has the noblest of failures--using all of the persuasive powers of speech and narrative for which he has been justly, but as yet, incompletely seen, praised and known.
Photo via: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2010/09/michelle-obama-obesity-restaurant-menus/comments/page/1/