Monday, March 14, 2011

It's Tough to be President

"It's good to be king and have your own world
It helps to make friends, it's good to meet girls
A sweet little queen who can't run away
It's good to be king, whatever it pays."

Tom Petty

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think the fantasy of the presidency that fueled the Barack Obama campaign in 2008 has matched the reality.

I think Obama and the millions who believed in the simplicity of the "Yes, we can" slogan really and truly believed that a president is a kinglike figure whose word is law.

If something is not so, their reasoning went, it is because the king has not willed it to be so. Not for any other reason.

Well, it has taken more than half of Obama's term, but it seems to be dawning on some people that it's a lot more complicated than that. Many of those who supported him in 2008 are not so eager to support him today, at least not on the premise that he is going to be some kind of transformational leader.

They have seen that there are clear limits to what a president can do. It has nothing to do with race or gender or religion.

Rather, it seems to have a lot to do with the fact that man simply cannot control things to the extent that he likes to believe he can.

That's a lesson we never seem to learn. We thought we had conquered nature a century ago with the unsinkable Titanic, and few things seemed to have changed by the age of the space shuttle.

Obama's campaign began with an emphasis on ending the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has taken baby steps in that direction. Mostly they have been responsible steps and seem likely to keep things relatively stable, but things are boiling over in other Middle East countries now, and that is affecting gas prices here in the United States ...

... which, in turn, affects the nascent economic recovery upon which the very lives of millions of Americans depend.

Obama isn't an economist. I'm sure he imagined addressing all sorts of things as president — injustice, racial and gender inequality, educational deficiencies, health care, energy self–sufficiency, etc. Fiscal policy, belt tightening, that sort of thing wasn't high on his agenda.

I'm sure the last thing he wanted to do as president was promote job creation. But that is what destiny demands of the individual who is president at this time.

All the things Obama wanted to achieve depended on things remaining about where they were when he entered the presidential campaign in 2007. But the economy officially began its decline later that year, and job losses began to mount after Obama had claimed the nomination.

That changed things dramatically.

Obama used to be a community organizer. Like anyone else whose work requires them to promote a special interest, his only concern was getting his share (or more) of the pie. And it was from this perspective that he ran for president.

But now he is president, and, although he occasionally reverts to form, he slowly seems to be realizing that being president isn't what he — or his supporters — imagined it to be.

And, with fewer people working — and with many of those who are still working taking home a paycheck with less buying power — there is considerably less flexibility in either the presidential agenda or the federal budget.

Obama tried to have it his way. He devoted his energy to everything but job creation through the first half of his presidency — and tried to let nature take its course. But he has seen that nature doesn't always cooperate.

There was the three–month distraction of that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but that was in our hemisphere. Now there is the triple threat of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster on the other side of the planet in Japan.

As well as the spreading unrest in the Middle East.

Even with all that is happening in the world today — and whatever may happen in the world in the months to come — now Obama has no choice but to devote all of his efforts to seeking dramatic — and less likely with each passing day — improvements.

Dubya once joked (well, I assumed he was joking) that everything would be easier if the U.S. was a dictatorship.

I was reminded of that when I read in the New York Times — in a piece that was published the day before the earthquake in Japan — that Obama "has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China."

You have to put it into the correct context, I think, because of the proximity of China to Japan. It was mentioned in connection with the instability in the Middle East.

I really doubt that, upon reflection, Obama would say that being president of a country with a population roughly four times that of the United States would be any kind of bargain — especially with all that is going on in that part of the world now.

Yet Michael Goodwin of the rival New York Post seized on that and wrote that there were two ways to interpret: "One is that Obama resents the burden of global leadership that comes with the American presidency. The other is that he longs for an authoritarian system, where he need tolerate no dissent.

"Under either or both interpretations, his confession ... means Obama has hit a wall."


I'm inclined to think that things look a lot different from the inside than they did from the outside — where, on the night of his election, Obama reminded his fellow Americans that "we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers."

It's tough to be president.

No comments: