Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Gift That Stopped Giving

Time may definitively tell us, after some administration resignations and the obligatory ‘tell all’ books that follow, whether the decision to go to Copenhagen was miscalculation, hubris or something else. I think it very likely that the Obama associates and cronies behind getting the 2016 Olympics to Chicago and the Obamas believed that Chicago was near but not necessarily over the top and that a little nudge from The One would cinch it. Rather than seeing it as running a risk of damaging the President’s prestige, I believe President Obama saw it as an opportunity for reaffirmation of the power of The Gift.

When freshman Senator Obama was congratulated by Harry Reid on a phenomenal speech, Obama famously replied "Harry, I have a gift.".

A month ago, as the push for Obamacare in all its myriad mutations was going off the rails everywhere, the Washington Post ran this story and the author probably didn’t recognize the irony and unintentional humor:

Democratic officials and foot soldiers, who have experienced the volatile public mood firsthand, are asking Obama to take a more assertive approach this fall. His senior advisers say he will, beginning with his Wednesday address to Congress on health care.

For those Democratic officials this “assertive approach” they desired is likely something more in the line of what an LBJ or even a Reagan might do – get into the fight, make his own administration’s proposals and run them up the flagpole, twist arms, make deals, use the Presidential power of pain and pleasure with members of the other branch, etc. For President Obama, giving speeches and talking is something akin to the sum total of asserting leadership! He has The Gift, after all! By the time of that WaPo writing, the President had already given something in the order of a hundred speeches on health care!

Yet for some time now The Gift seems to have been losing its luster. The big speech before the joint sessions of Congress and then the full Ginsberg on the Sunday news shows each showed what seemed to be a bounce, but they were fleeting, gone within a few days. The damsel may have blushed and enjoyed the charmer’s suave flirtations at the dance, but in the end she wasn’t going back to his apartment!

President Obama, his circle and their media allies have been telling us why this is so. He no sooner would deliver his gifted oratory to the masses when talk radio, Fox and the right wing blogosphere would throw up an unceasing cacophony of hateful and often racism motivated lies at the beauty he had produced.

Hence, Copenhagen! This was the stage to reaffirm The Gift! Here Obama could speak to and move the hearts and minds of people not subject to the bigotry, hate and distortions of the rightwing media in the U.S. These were people of the world who understood that he, Obama, was one of them. Chicago was in the running and so The Gift only had to move a certainly attainable number of votes! When the news broke that Chicago had been knocked out in the first round, the NY Times reported:

A sense of stunned bewilderment suffused Air Force One and the White House.

I believe the President and no doubt some of those around him are indeed stunned! Rather than reaffirmation, The Gift just failed to deliver, and it wasn’t because of the usual suspects! What else can President Obama do – to lead – without The Gift?

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