Monday, December 13, 2010

Obama prefers to be head of state

The entire political world in the U.S. is buzzing over the bizarre scene of President Obama abandoning the White House podium to Bill Clinton while he scurried off to keep his wife from getting mad at him. The media is so happy to have Bill Clinton back and talk on the Sunday shows was about how much better Clinton is at this sort of thing than Obama. Clinton displayed humor and enjoyment of the political spotlight rather than the irritated gracelessness of Obama's press conference.

What struck me was the division of duties that occupied Obama at the moment. He could work on trying to convince recalcitrant Democrats to support the compromise tax bill. Or he could go to one more of the many White House Christmas parties. He chose the party.

When the United States broke off from Britain and wrote our own constitution, we changed the model of the head of government from one where there was both a monarch and a prime minister. In Great Britain the roles of head of government and head of state are divided. The Queen is the head of state. She is the one who does the ceremonial jobs and has no executive power in the government. She is just there as a symbol. The Prime Minister is the one who runs the government.

It seems that Obama prefers the ceremonial side of his job. He outsourced the major legislative accomplishments to the leaders in Congress to craft the stimulus bill last year and the health care bill. He came in to make speeches and soak up the public attention, but Pelosi and Reid and their supporters in Congress wrote the bills.

Meanwhile, Obama can go on Oprah, ESPN, and Mythbusters. He can travel abroad to try to win the Olympics for the U.S. Sure he travels to meetings with foreign leaders, but he's been generally ineffectual in those meetings. What he prefers is using the grandeur of his office to get to play basketball with sports celebrities or going to the Kennedy Center.

Obama had no experience in governing or being an executive in office. As soon as he got into the state legislature, he became bored. As soon as he got into the Senate, he decided to transcend his boredom by running for president. In his masterful article, reminding us of all the evidence that Obama has given us of heightened self-admiration, Jonathan Last, brings in these bits about how bored Obama has been all his life.
David Remnick delivers a number of insights about Obama in his book The Bridge. For instance, Valerie Jarrett—think of her as the president’s Karen Hughes—tells Remnick that Obama is often bored with the world around him. “I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually,” Jarrett says. “So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that they had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy.” Jarrett concludes, “He’s been bored to death his whole life.”

With one or two possible exceptions, that is. Remnick reports that “Jarrett was quite sure that one of the few things that truly engaged him fully before going to the White House was writing Dreams from My Father.” So the only job Barack Obama ever had that didn’t bore him was writing about Barack Obama. But wait, there’s more.

David Axelrod—he’s Obama’s Karl Rove—told Remnick that “Barack hated being a senator.” Remnick went on:
Washington was a grander stage than Springfield, but the frustrations of being a rookie in a minority party were familiar. Obama could barely conceal his frustration with the torpid pace of the Senate. His aides could sense his frustration and so could his colleagues. “He was so bored being a senator,” one Senate aide said.
So he fought the boredom by writing yet another book about himself and what he thinks. Then he ran for president soaking up all the love and admiration that the left, the media, elites, and the young could give him.

But once he got to be president, he found that actual governing was hard. He needed to meet with all those people he thinks are inferior to him. He had to persuade those stupid American people that the deals cooked up for him by other politicians were good for us. And the thanks he got for lending his aura to these bills - people went out and voted for the Republicans! That's not what this American Narcissus thinks he deserves. So he paid attention for a bit more time and got a compromise deal with those hostage-takers, the Republicans. And his own base erupted in contempt. Well stuff that. Let Bill Clinton have some fun at the podium; Obama had a party to attend. That's what the head of state does. The actual day-to-day work of being the chief executive - that's dull and frustrating. Let other Democrats do that. Obama will handle the media attention. That's what he really enjoys. Actual governing - not so much.