Sunday, April 24, 2011

Obama Shrugged

"Prosperity is just around the corner."

Herbert Hoover
31st president of the United States

Sunny dispositions go a long way for a president, but they can't mask reality.

It probably says a lot more than most Americans would care to know (or admit) about just how shallow many of them really are, but whoever said it first probably was on to something when he observed that George W. Bush was the kind of guy with whom more folks would like to share a beer than Al Gore.

Dubya always had a partyin' frat boy approach to life, even after he stopped drinking and (allegedly) using coke. Given the choice, it came as no surprise to me to think that more people would rather sit down and drink a beer with Dubya and talk about — I don't know — baseball than would choose to sit down with Gore over a beer and talk about — I don't know — Social Security lockboxes.

It was pretty easy to make a voting decision on such superficial issues in 2000. There was a budget surplus, not a deficit that was already historic when Barack Obama took office. Wall Street was thriving, and Main Street was, too.

Remember the atmosphere when the year began? People weren't worried about their jobs. They were worried about how the four–digit year change on their computers might shut everything down in some kind of apocalyptic wave while people were sleeping off their New Year's Eve revelry.

There were no wars being waged by America, and domestic discussion centered largely on what was to be done with the surplus.

By comparison, it was a naive time.

Bush didn't win the popular vote, but he did seem, even to many of Gore's supporters, to project more of a sunny disposition than the often sour Gore — and that could have made the difference with many voters.

Ever since surveys in 1960 indicated that Kennedy had been perceived to be the winner of the debates by those who watched them on television — and Nixon was perceived to be the winner of the debates by the ones who only heard them on radio — presidential elections have been more and more about theatrics and less about reality.

I have often said: Perception is reality.

What the voters think is what matters.

And, when you acknowledge that, you really do have to start wondering if the truth has any value.

Actually, it does — especially when times are hard.

When times are good, people can muse about trivial things — such as with whom they would like to share a beer. When times are hard, they are obsessed with just putting bread on the table — and keeping a roof over that table.

Anyway, it strikes me as kind of ironic that Jonah Goldberg of the New York Post writes about how Obama seems to hate his job. Obama, after all, just announced his intention to run for a second term. That's bipolar behavior if the man hates his job.

OK, Goldberg is a conservative columnist, not exactly one of Obama's friends. And, if you are one of Obama's defenders, you may be inclined to say that Goldberg is putting the spin on the situation that benefits his side.

But he makes a good point. OK, occasionally, he lapses into the partisan language that surely is familiar to most of us by now. At times, though, he is better at it than most.

(i.e., "The president has always had a gift for self–pity. And blame–shifting. 'It's Bush's fault' could be the subtitle of his presidency.")

But Goldberg also has his moments that even Obama's most ardent supporter would be challenged to refute.

(i.e., "He demonized George W. Bush as an evil fool, but Obama has been forced to adopt many of the very policies he derided as evil and foolish. The 'change' candidate is now the 'more of the same' guy.")

And now, even though he has acknowledged that there really isn't anything a president can do about gas prices, Obama nevertheless took the opportunity to announce on what amounted to a campaign swing through hard–hit–by–the–recession Nevada that he will instruct the attorney general to appoint a task force to see if anyone is taking advantage of consumers.

That isn't a bad pledge for a Democratic president to make — particularly if he doesn't want to lose states like Nevada that voted for him in 2008 but have suffered disproportionately during his presidency — and have a history of supporting Republicans (between 1952 and 2004, Nevada voted for one Democratic nominee).

And it conveniently obscures other facts that a Democratic president wouldn't want observers to dwell upon too long — like the fact that unemployment in Nevada has been far higher — and for far longer — than any time in recent memory. But that kind of tactic can backfire on a president — and for the most unexpected reasons.

Actually, probably the less said in future speeches about that task force the better. I've lost track of the number of task forces Obama has appointed in 2¼ years in office, but I haven't seen any improvements because of them. Obama doesn't need to emphasize that fact, however indirectly.

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