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    « How Quickly We Forget…. Again…. | Main | What do Oprah Winfrey and Wayne LaPierre Have in Common? »

    President Obama and the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging

    Got people stocked in every shade,
    Must be doing well with trade.
    Stamped, addressed, in odd fatality.
    That evens out their personality….
    It’s the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging,
    All ready to use…

    “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging,” by Genesis, from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway


    One of the main reasons I’ve offered occasional support for Barack Obama is that he has always strived to maintain his poise and professionalism even while subjected to a constant flurry of ideological, philosophical, and racist attacks. But yesterday he let me down.

    When he moved in to the Oval Office, the position Obama had been elected to had suffered, devolved, its most recent incumbents having both abused their powers and embarrassed their constituents. It was a hard, uphill climb to restore the dignity of the office, and I always respected how seriously he took this task and how hard he worked at it.

    This respect that I’ve developed for the man overcomes many of the disagreements I have with his policies and with his approach to governance.  Perhaps because of that allowance I now feel compelled to speak out about the press conference he held yesterday with regard to the last-minute fiscal cliff negotiations.

    I was—to understate my reaction—surprised and disappointed. Instead of the meaningful and critical update I was expecting, what I saw instead was a tactless, rude, manipulative performance.

    You led a parade of stock characters out before the hungry cameras, Mr. President, and then you laughed and joked while telling us almost nothing. No deal was made, no agreement reached. It was a PR stunt, a photo op.

    Even worse, it was arrogant.

    It seemed like you hadn’t read the memo that you, yourself, had written: several million people were on the verge of panic because their unemployment benefits were about to run out; everyone with a 401(k) or an IRA sat nervously, split-screening your speech with the stock market ticker on CNBC; small businesses everywhere were still wondering what would happen to their tax rates; and hundreds of thousands of employees chewed on already quick-bitten fingernails, wondering if they were going to lose their jobs because of the cuts packed into sequestration’s poison pill.

    But you had little time for those concerns. You had time, instead, to offer meaningless homilies and to make jokes:

    I have to say that ever since I took office, throughout the campaign, and over the last couple of months, my preference would have been to solve all these problems in the context of a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand bargain, whatever you want to call it, that solves our deficit problems in a balanced and responsible way, that doesn’t just deal with the taxes, but deals with the spending in a balanced way so that we can put all this behind us and just focus on growing our economy.

    But with this Congress, that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time.


    And what is it you half-managed to actually accomplish, what you weren’t even sure would get done when you so brazenly took that podium? Nothing but a cosmetic patch on a foundational crack, a deal that kicks the can down the road (again). Yes, you’ve assuaged some of the fear (particularly for the chronically unemployed), but other than that you’ve primarily avoided any of the really important questions. The monster is still under the bed and we’re still trapped. Your flippancy was grossly misplaced.

    What you should have been was chastened. You should have walked out their alone, without that grand parade of lifeless packaging behind you, and you should have apologized to the American people, told them that it’s a struggle, and one that won’t easily go away no matter the crisis, no matter how close to midnight the striking clock sits. You should have told them—told us—that even a temporary fix is something, that it will preserve our sanity for just a little while longer, and that the work will continue. Instead you made a couple of references to Congress’ inability to get things done, and even wisecracked about being invited to someone’s house for a New Year’s Eve party.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not in any way assigning blame to you for the situation we find ourselves in, this “déjà vu all over again.” There’s blame a-plenty and, the vast majority belongs to the Tea Party caucus that insists on holding our country hostage as they work to impose their own warped ideologies on the rest of us. But your minimal blame doesn’t give you carte blanche to act the way you did.

    You sounded victorious and were gloating about it when, in fact, the only victory you’ve won reminds me of the Pharaoh in Exodus who refuses to listen even as plagues attack his people.

    This isn’t supposed to be about you, but yesterday that’s what you did. It was an embarrassment, and all the more so because you’ve done so much to restore the capital “P” to the Presidency these last four years.

    I may not be your biggest fan, but I’ve always treated you with respect. I expect--and deserve--the same in return.

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    Reader Comments (10)

    Imagine the arrogance of the president acting as if his winning an election, gave him the right to push through his agenda. Imagine how out of touch he is, just because they have called him everything from a socialist to a foreign plant, he thinks it is alright to mock a bunch of halfwits, who are trying to destroy the largest economy in the world. You'd almost think (from listening to him) that in the past these same clowns had caused the United States to suffer the humiliation of having our credit rated dropped, like some third world country.

    January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDale Top

    I a point. Yesterday's show of off-the-cuff remarks was sparked by comments by both critics and disappointed supporters that the President is "too stiff". The fact is, congress has produced NOTHING of any substance recently. I sometimes must laugh about this or dive into a deep depression. When I read posts like yours, it gives me hope that there is hope for a civil, respectful debate to be had.

    January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Fairfield

    I didn't see it as arrogant - more like laughing a bit to keep from crying.

    January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLittle Dave

    Mr. Charney: You might do well to spend some time in a movie theatre watching Lincoln.

    Sometimes a President does the best job by creating a brave and competent image in the face of great adversity. Sometimes a President does the best job by making moves in the back room. Sometimes a President does the best job being genial and telling funny stories. Lincoln did all of those things. It's pretty clear Obama has done all of those things. None of them diminishes the Presidency. Any and sometimes all of them matter to getting things done.

    January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavis

    I agree with all the comments to some degree, and I admit (and it should be obvious) that this was a personal response. (It wasn't however, partisan; I've almost always been very impressed by Obama's presidential stature.) What was missing for me was a sense that he understood the audience--something he always does well (except for that first debate!) but which seemed lacking this time. Everyone I know was on pins and needles looking for assurance. I didn't think it was the time to take pot shots at Congress (though they deserve it), nor remind us how dysfunctional things are in W'ton. It was a time to remind us that in this day and age we get to see the sausage made. It isn't pretty, but it gets done, and he's working on our behalf...

    I guess I just felt like he was pretending to talk to us while really talking to Congress--and hoping that we'd be pissed off about them... It just didn't sit right... Davis: to your point about Lincoln--I totally agree; there is a time and place for all kinds of approaches--I just think he missed it this time--and this time seemed pretty important to me...

    January 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Oh... and thank you all for your comments; it's a good discussion, both here and on FB.

    January 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Mr. Charney, I believe your expectations of the president are completely unreasonable. As an earlier post noted, this man has endured attacks, vitriol and obstructionism like no other. He has diplomatically put up with Boehner's and others, condescending, thinly veiled racist admonitions to "get serious." The current obstructionist Tea Party/Republicans are the epitome of incivility. They care not at all about governing. Further, they have candidly made it their goal to keep President Obama from any success even if it means destroying the nation. Why is that? You ask Mr. Obama to retain his extraordinary level of civility in the face of these deeply personal attacks. I think its time he calls a spade a spade. Continuing with the facade of diplomacy displays a level of respect to the childish, obstructionist tactics the Republicans have adopted that they do not deserve (nor will it make any difference). He is absolutely damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Lets put the focus on the bullies, where it belongs. Who can blame the kid who, after being incessantly bullied, finally loses his cool and calls his attacker bad names? Get a grip Mr. Charney. I am thrilled to hear the kid tell the bullies they are fools, because they are.

    January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Caton

    A President should, in my opinion, be above everything you've described, David. He's got a host of people working for him who can snark all day (and, as you've pointed out and I agree with, deservedly so). But when the President stands before the nation on a matter of urgency, I expect him to speak to me, not about them.

    Many who have read the post seem to think that I believe he shouldn't be pissed at the way the Tea Party has treated him (and us, by the way); that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is simple: be the President, not the president.

    January 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    I'm an Obama supporter, and I thought his comments and the staging were not so much arrogant as just kinda...weird. Like you, I was expecting him to say something of substance. That said, there's also this: in the past I've been proud of my insistence on criticizing my own party when needed, just as you do with people whose policies are more in line with yours. I admire that about you, and it's why I read your work. However, because of the nearly treasonous shenanigans of the Tea Party, the depths to which they've sunk to try to drag this president down, with no regard whatsoever to the public will or to truth--because of their behavior and my dismay at the fact they keep getting elected, I am very, very reluctant to criticize this president or, frankly, almost anyone who is *not* the Tea Party, because I think they are a big enough problem that for the moment, we have enough to contend with just exposing them for what they are.

    January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarly

    First of all, Michael, thank you for starting this discussion. I rarely read one that follows an article or blog that does not leave me at least disheartened, but your readers and you have actually used it to elevate the conversation. Hopefully you're starting a trend.

    I understand your frustration with the President's press conference, but I think your expectations are unrealistic, and if achieved, may have done the President more harm than good in the long run. First of all, the POTUS is, and must always appear to be, a human being. One of us. This has been a necessary and sometimes unfortunate truth of the office since the introduction of television. Many of Obama's PR problems early on were because he wasn't connecting with that. He came off as aloof and out of touch. Most of America is rolling their eyes at Congress right now, and joining in on that at a moment of what must be extreme relief for the White House shows that he gets it. There is plenty of time for Presidential appeal (most notably an upcoming State of the Union), and I agree that there is no "perfect" time to show this lightheartedness in the national spotlight, but there are also very few moments when the nation is actually focused on the true demeanor of the President. In today's media, members of Congress and surrogates get most of the face time. Obama has plenty of difficult, serious Presidential moments ahead. Shaking his head with us at the ridiculousness of his opposition before the next round begins lets us know that he gets it, and with one "off the cuff" comment tells us that he is doing everything he can and, while he is not satisfied with this short term resolution, can breath a sigh of relief and forge ahead.

    January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharles W

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