It is now spring; the vernal equinox was reached Friday morning. To celebrate, Barack Obama sent a video of himself to Iran.
This was one of several end-of-week media performances, as Mr. Obama went back into “campaign mode” after a break of several months. The message of the polls is that he had better start selling his policies harder, because they are showing signs of not going over very well. Moreover, the unpolled elites, including those within the Democratic Party, have started to ask questions aloud about whether their man is competent; and as we know from painful history, such uncertainties from an elite tend to “trickle down.”
What the polls can’t say directly, and thus perhaps the White House can’t yet hear, is that the policies themselves are diminishing Mr. Obama’s appeal. There are indications of this in the polls themselves, but they are subtle. On one issue after another, from bail-outs to the environment, Medicare, life issues, foreign policy, the polls now tend to confirm what this pundit and a few other incorrigible reactionaries knew from the outset: that a plurality of American voters had embraced Mr. Obama not because of, but despite the policies he was signalling. They most certainly liked the man and his “temperament,” and they most certainly wanted the Republicans out. But it did not follow that they wanted their government to lurch to the left.
To my analytical mind, such as it is, they wanted Obama the man, but not Obama the agenda, except for the uplifting rhetorical bits about “hope,” “change,” and so forth. The idea that the man could not be separated from the agenda never fully fixed; John McCain and company actually avoided riding home on this point, once the media made clear it would be reported as “scare tactics.”
Again, to my mind — and it is the only one I have with which to write this column — we would be wrong to think of Mr. Obama as an ideologue. I think he was perfectly sincere in denying that he was anything of the sort, and in claiming that he would be looking for bipartisan consensus. I also think he is sincere in proceeding with an agenda — on bail-outs, the environment, Medicare, life issues, foreign policy, etc. — that leaves most Republicans, and quite a few of the more conservative Democrats, utterly aghast.
How to explain this apparent contradiction? I’m afraid it is easy. As I mentioned during the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama was seriously unqualified for the job of president. He had no practical experience in running anything, except political campaigns; but worse, his background was one-dimensional.
All his life, from childhood through university through “community organizing” and Chicago wardheel politics, through Sunday mornings listening to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to the left side of Democrat caucuses in Springfield and Washington, he has been surrounded almost exclusively by extremely liberal people, and moreover, by people who are quick and clever but intellectually narrow.
He is a free soul, but he is also the product of environments in which even moderately conservative ideas are never considered; but where people on the further reaches of the left are automatically welcomed as “avant-garde.” His whole idea of where the middle might be, is well to the left of where the average American might think it is. To a man like Obama, as he has let slip on too many occasions when away from his teleprompter, “Middle America” is not something to be compromised with, but rather, something that must be manipulated, because it is stupid. And the proof that it can be manipulated, is that he is the president today.
It is at this point that the phenomenon known as “too clever by half” sets in. Technically, it is indistinguishable from arrogance and hubris, but it is unnecessary to stress the point. Sixty days into his first term (and I begin to doubt there’ll be a second), he would seem already to have dug a hole from which no rhetorical skill can lift him.
The video to Iran is the latest catastrophe. Mr. Obama simply does not understand how his “olive branch” will be received, not only by the mullahs in Iran itself, but wherever else on the surface of the planet the United States has enemies. It “reads” — to people who do not share anything like America’s aspirations — as an unambiguous confession of weakness. He has moved the American position towards Iran from offensive to defensive, for no defensible reason.