“Obama was elected to lead ‘a rational, postracial, moderate country that is looking for sensible progress,’ a White House official tells Kantor. ‘Except, oops, it’s an enraged, moralistic, harsh, desperate country. It’s a disconnect he can’t bridge.’”
That comes from David Remnick’s New Yorker review of Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas. I thought it captured Obama’s political problems, and ours.
America seems traumatized. And no wonder: 9/11 followed by two wars as endless and incomprehensible as Viet Nam, plus the worst economy since the Great Depression. At times like these, politics requires a Father figure. Roosevelt was that; Reagan was too. We need someone to put our fears into a narrative that makes sense, gives us hope and steels our courage. Obama is calm, which is good, but he is no storyteller. He communicates like a first rate accountant.
That may explain why he so enrages conservatives. Emotional crises call for emotional release, and a leader who violates your gut sense of what needs doing (Balance the budget! Downsize government!) can provoke rage. It’s like a fire is raging and Fluffy is inside and the fireman is telling you in a flatline voice that he understands you are upset but this is not the time to fly off the handle. You want to fly him off the handle.
Liberals are the mirror image. They long to be rallied to the cause of rescuing America, and Obama is looking for thoughtful bipartisan solutions. Send me in, Coach!
I’ll grant you that psychological interpretations of history leave something to be desired. There are, after all, policy matters at stake. Still, I think emotions are a big part of politics, and that this is an especially emotional time.
What’s the answer? Is there a Moses? Do you see one in our Republican candidates? Or do you think Obama may yet find a way to speak to us? Or—do you think we just have to muddle through and hope to feel better in the morning? That’s what I tend to believe.