A reader writes:
I write this from the perspective of one who didn’t participate in politics before Barack Obama, but I voted for him twice. I’m part of that “Obama coalition” that political writers like to talk about – a “creative class” member, family man, early 40s, white, with deep skepticism toward American politics and outright disdain for the two major political parties.
Watching the president last night made me think two things. First, my gut reaction was that this wasn’t the guy I voted for – what happened to that guy? Second, it made me think more deeply about why I had supported him in the first place. Sure, the idea of a black president was interesting to me, but that really had very little to do with my vote. I also didn’t vote for Obama out of fear of Sarah Palin’s lunacy or John McCain’s warmongering (though both were certainly compelling reasons). No, he was different. We didn’t vote for Obama because we hated or feared the other side, and that is actually something that makes him different from most of the milquetoast candidates the two parties typically put forward (and are already planning to put forward in 2016).
I think the disappointment in Obama stems in part from the fact that most of us who voted for him did so affirmatively.
We actually voted for Obama, not against McCain or Palin or Romney or Ryan. We voted for the guy he ran as – a profoundly intelligent, intellectually independent, thoughtful man who insisted on treating the public like adults and who, on issue after issue, self-consciously refused to be responsive to whatever the Beltway shouting about. In short, he decided he wanted to be president on his own terms.
Obama knew he couldn’t control events, obviously, but he certainly could control himself – and his composed, sober, longer view of the churn of day-to-day issues conferred an inherent dignity upon himself. The political class and some in the media didn’t always “get it”, still breathlessly chasing after the latest big story, trying to “win the hour”, etc. But Obama’s poised refusal to go along (remember how he used to deride what he called “cable chatter”? I sure do…) was a major dog whistle for people like me. I saw the president acting the way I wanted him to act. That was the guy I elected. The guy who wouldn’t play along with all the bullshit, who would insist that we actually deal with both policy and politics based on facts, reasoning, and long-term strategy.
This can seem mundane, but for people like me who have watched Obama closely over the years, that’s what we liked and what we voted for. I work in a corporate job with mostly conventional Fox-news Republican types, and time and again over the years, every argument they make bounces off me like Teflon. It was always so easy to see how they had to mischaracterize Obama in order to effectively criticize him.
Last night’s speech looked transparently political. OK, so Obama goofed and said we didn’t have a strategy, a rhetorical blunder that handed the Republicans a short-term tactical advantage in the midterm elections … so, after enough Democrats bitched about it, he goes on TV to announce a strategy. The actual content was secondary to the fact of the speech itself. That’s just not the guy I voted for. It also lacked any actual strategic thinking – what are we going to do, who’s going to help us do it, how long, costs, risks and mitigants. It was a political errand dressed as a speech, which frankly was one of the things I despised most about George W Bush.
It is sad to see Obama fall this far. Furthermore, beyond even the inadequate content of the speech or the stench of midterm politics behind it, didn’t anyone bother to think of how the speech elevates ISIS around the world? I admit they’re extremely violent and completely incapable of being deterred. But they’re what – 30,000 guys? A primetime presidential address gives them stature, legitimacy … which can only help them strengthen their hold on those they already have, and recruit even more. How does that serve a real strategy to defeat them?
This is not the guy I voted for. I remembered thinking this during the first debate with Romney, and now I’m thinking it again. Is he checked out? What happened? Last night was a failure not only for Obama himself, but his political and policy teams. Every president is surrounded by people for whom part of their responsibility is to not let the president look ridiculous. Where are THOSE people?
The president looks like a solitary, adrift figure to me, a guy who may have already written off these next couple of years.