Barack Obama's Struggle For Relevance
For his part, the president seems to simply ignore all the foolishness. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the White House wall, to discover whether or not the president explodes in anger and hurls things and calls these idiots idiots. It must frustrate him, on some level, to know he is at least as white as many white Americans, perhaps moreso given his mother’s middle America Kansas roots. There is likely no more American a guy breathing than Barack Obama, whose life experience, DNA, and amazing, historic, storybook bootstraps rise is a purely and exclusively American story. Yet every day he is painted as a werewolf, and conservative white America simply inhales this nonsense, vilifying one of the most remarkable men of our lifetime simply and exclusively because of the color of his skin. If I had to guess, I’d suppose the president has simply accepted the fact a certain portion of the nation will never fully embrace him as president. After all, this could not possibly come as a shock or even as a mild revelation to him. I have to assume that, from the beginning, there was some discussion between himself and his family about the realities of not the presidency but the black presidency, a reality that includes the very real possibility of a single term and voluminous death threats. I am reminded of James Earl Jones’ wonderful portrayal of a circuit court judge in post-emancipation South Carolina in the Jodie Foster film Sommersby. Jones’ Judge Barry Conrad Issacs knew no one in that southern courtroom took him seriously, but he had the law and the army on his side and a pistol under his robes. He meant business and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it. This, in a perhaps more benign sense, seems to be President Obama. If he is frustrated by the Fox News-fueled racist carnival he won’t show it. His demeanor lends the impression he certainly anticipated this, anticipated worse, but has chosen to not be distracted by the foolishness and get on with the people’s business, not the least of which is the nation’s economic recovery, which the mess in Libya and other Arab nations now threatens.
The U.S. government has substantially
underplayed the severity
of the economic crisis. Anyone with half a brain will understand
that, in time of crisis, it is in the nation’s best interest to
put as upbeat a spin on things as possible. So even the most
grim statistics coming from Washington have been scrubbed and
sanitized and made to sound upbeat. Numbers that frighten us to
death are actually the Happy Face version of what’s going on.
The government is not trying to create jobs, the government is
trying to create hope. President Obama’s personality is not a
Clintionian I Feel Your Pain connective empathy, but more
of an iconic scholarly posture which relies on conceptualism,
what we call “vision.”. Most people I know have difficulty
dealing with concepts. You cannot describe an idea to these
people, you have to build a model and show it to them. President
Clinton would embody the emotion he desired to communicate to
the American People. This Is How You Should Feel. Obama
tends to describe how we should feel in terms of ideology
and rhetoric. But he is all but incapable of personally modeling
that emotion. Despite his eloquence, the president, therefore,
comes across as aloof—which I do not believe he is.
Downplaying the severity of our national economic disaster and being personally incapable of modeling America’s struggle is a serious political weakness for the president. Republicans, who, since the halcyon Newt Gingrich Contract With America days, has been almost exclusively the political party of lies and deception, seem wholly incapable of mounting a fair and reasonable idea-based campaign. Republicans seem to only want to deal in manipulation and deceit. Which seems to anger and disgrace old-school Repubs, the Bob Doles and the James Bakers who actually knew Ronald Reagan and who understand the Gipper is likely spinning in his grave because of the grotesque caricature modern Republicans have concocted by distorting Reagan’s record and his values. The extremism and disingenuous hate-based personal attacks which have come to be the Republican party’s stock and trade were never, ever, employed by Ronald Reagan. Reagan trounced his political opponents with his warmth, humor, and by simply being better at it than they were. Were his ideas better? Of course not. Most every economic woe this nation has suffered in the modern era has been a result of Republican whack-job economic philosophy. It amazes me that Democrats—often idiots squabbling among themselves—have never made that case. President Jimmy Carter, whose own caricature is that of a bumbling and inept president, passed more effective legislation in a more bi-partisan manner than any U.S. president in modern history. Much like President Bill Clinton, Carter handed his successor a nation at (relative) peace (not counting the standoff in Iran), and an ostensibly sound economy. Reagan immediately imposed massive, unprecedented tax cuts which resulted in historic, massive deficits and took us to war. The Republican philosophy of Tax Cuts Are The Answer To Everything is provably wrong, provable first and foremost by their demigod Reagan himself, who ended up raising taxes and left office with a record economic deficit. His hand-picked successor, George H.W. Bush, was no Reagan (as Obama is no Clinton). While infinitely more thoughtful, focused, and intellectual, Bush lacked Reagan’s charisma and therefore came across as an elite stiff—the way Obama tends to. Stuck with the economic reality left behind Reagan’s rosy idealism, Bush was forced to raise taxes, which destroyed him politically.
But the American people are not and have never been interested in dealing with reality. We want somebody to tell us a story. To entertain us. The nation is not at all interested in the fact that what we called and continue to call a severe recession is actually much closer to a global economic depression. If you don’t count oil-rich Arab states, virtually all industrialized nations on the planet are in economic crisis. Nearly every one of them are looking to the United States to help. Japan’s shaky economy is now threatened with collapse, which will certainly send the dominoes tumbling across global markets and affect us here.
The president has no choice but to downplay the severity of our economic climate. For, were he to speak frankly about it, panic would ensue. Most of us would simply stop spending, period. Which would grind the economic recovery to a halt and make things exponentially worse.
The major economic frustration is likely the oil companies.
The biggest threat to America is not radiation clouds from the
Pacific, not (yet) Arab revolts. It is petroleum industry greed.
The petroleum industry has been sharply raising prices at the
pump since the beginning of the Middle East unrest. This is a
reaction to sharp price hikes on global oil markets, where
speculators—businessmen and women out to make a buck—are betting
that the upheaval in Arab nations will inevitably lead to an oil
shortage. Mind you, there is no oil shortage, these money people
are simply betting there will be, and that they can, therefore,
make a profit if they buy oil now and sit on it while the prices
rise and then sell it at a profit. These speculators are, as a
result, causing an oil shortage where there is, in fact, no oil
shortage but buying up all the oil and keeping it off the
market. Less oil on the market causes prices to rise. And the
petroleum industry sees the market price tick up and sends the
guy out to your corner gas station with new giant numbers for
On its face, it does not seem to be anybody’s fault (but the speculators—many of whom work for the petroleum industry), but this cause-and-effect distracts from the reality that the oil industry realized record, even obscene, profits over the past few years, due largely to the economic misery this country has endured. Oil companies profiteered by unimaginable sums. These companies are so fat, so obese, so stuffed full of cash, that the notion of their "having" to raise prices is an offensive lie. There is an at least six-week (likely longer) buffer between oil market prices and your local Texaco station. Why do they change the signs immediately? The oil giants paid $70 for the barrel of oil that created 42 gallons of gasoline currently at your gas station. That gas has already been bought and paid for. But they immediately jump the price on that gas—already bought, paid for and delivered to your local gas station—based on the oil market price, even though one had nothing to do with the other.
Any hike in fuel costs is like taking a sledgehammer to the American economy. It ripples through every area of commerce, costing businesses only now slowly beginning to rehire to slow that process, causing fuel-reliant businesses like delivery and trucking firms to layoff employees and raise prices. Which in turn causes other businesses and consumers who rely on those services to cut back their spending, which reduces the income for those fuel-reliant businesses and causes them to lay off more people and raise prices even more. Raising fuel prices hammers the U.S. economy. The oil companies know that. They also know they have six, maybe ten weeks of fuel in the pipeline between the greed-driven oil markets’ manufactured “oil shortage” and the local gas station. There is absolutely no reason why oil companies need to jump your gasoline prices thirty-five cents overnight just because of twenty dancing rebels in downtown Bin Jawad.
They do it because they can. They do it because they know the president is not going to impose a price freeze or call them out. I have no way of knowing whether or not the president is having any talks, on any level, with the oil companies about this. But he could, at least, admonish them. Presidential admonishments are an embarrassment to business. Congress could certainly hold hearings, and the president could certainly call these people out on their selfish behavior. Having profited in obscene, unprecedented amounts as a result of the U.S. economic crisis, the very least the oil companies could do is police themselves better, imposing a kind of a buffer between market forces and the local Shell station. Oil companies could make an at least token effort to do their part for America’s economic recovery by coming up with some cryptic formula of percent of market increase-to-retail pricing ratio and call it some ridiculous name like “Commitment To Rebuild America.” It would, at the end of the day, be a shell game (literally) and mostly propaganda that wouldn’t actually cost the oil giants much, but it would at least bolster American economic confidence (or at least slow its degradation) and make the oil companies seem less evil.
Only, the oil companies aren’t concerned with seeming less evil. And the president, for reasons I can’t begin to imagine, seems unwilling to even commit to the token gesture of slamming these folks. The president, in a relentless series of YouTube videos, could go after these people with Ross Perot-style charts and graphs, making his case against this insane profiteering and how it is a direct threat to the U.S. economic recovery and, by extension, to national security. He could make a case for how, at a time of nation urgency, these companies routinely, every time, refuse to sacrifice, refuse to contribute, and have no concern whatsoever for American families and American business, when it would only cost them x-percent of y-percent to create a “Rebuild America” buffer between volatile oil markets and your local 7-Eleven gas pump. Why isn’t he doing this? The bully pulpit is one of the few unrestricted weapons at Obama’s disposal. He has, instead, been all but missing in action as global and domestic events dominate the headlines.
The military strikes in Libya have pushed the president back
into our central view, but only the very plugged-in or the very
thoughtful will realize the president has been on the front
lines all along, but has likely moved himself out of the center
in order to build that all-important coalition inclusive of most
Arab states. Is he doing the same thing with the oil industry?
In politics, it's better to look like you’re doing something even
if there’s nothing that can be done. George W. Bush never failed
to take a bow for each and every boneheaded thing he ever did.
This president, possibly in the interest of actually achieving a
goal rather than political pandering, seems almost The Stealth
President as he endures the cartoonish toils and snares of
people who hate him, ignoring the circus as he does the job we
hired him to do. But that’s a politically risky choice.
He's doing important work, vital to the nation. But it's not sexy. It is, after a fashion, presidential grunt work—last week’s trip to Brazil, the world’s seventh strongest economy and an important crude oil resource. These tasks don’t get America up off the sofa cheering the president’s name, but it makes the country better and stronger. It helps the nation heal. But this path also runs the very real risk of a single-term presidency and that someone will come along after him, when the economic recovery hits its stride and global tensions cool, and take credit for it.