In the wake of an assortment of self-inflicted wounds that left many wondering whether he was on top of the ISIS challenge, President Obama needed to communicate some clarity to the country. He did so last night in a 15-minute prime-time address.
It was crisp, concise and compelling. It should leave the average American … someone who is neither gung-ho Obama nor an Obama-basher … with the feeling that they have a President who is on the case and has a plan that makes sense.
Now that he's caught up to the power curve, he's got to get ahead of it. If we have intelligence capabilities that allow our people to listen in on Angela Merkel's private telephone conversations, we should be able to get some good intel on what's going on with al-Baghdadi, the boss of ISIS, and some of his top people. A successful hit on the top of the ISIS organization would go a long way towards rebuilding the critical mass of support Obama will need for the remainder of his presidency.
Obama can make it tough on those of us who like him. Who can forget the first debate with Romney in the 2012 campaign? If it was a boxing match, they would have stopped it, and someone would have had to carry Obama out. Almost as bad was a listless press briefing Obama gave about two weeks ago in which he admitted that he didn't have “a strategy” to deal with ISIS. To add to the weirdness of that statement, Obama was wearing a strange tan suit that didn't seem to fit him.
All I could think of after I saw how inept he looked and sounded on that occasion was the scene in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. The slick tough-guy sales manager played by Alec Baldwin is addressing a group of under-performing salesmen. A hapless salesman in the back of the room played by Jack Lemmon is pouring himself a cup of coffee. The Baldwin character reams him out: “Put the coffee down. Coffee is for closers.”
Obama is not a natural salesman. He's not a closer. That may be a strange thing to say about someone who has been elected President of the United States twice, with over 51% of the vote, but it's the case.
Obama gives the impression that he feels that salesmanship is unnecessary. He thinks that if he gets the policy right, sooner or later it will be apparent to all, and that will make for good politics.
That kind of serene confidence is infuriating to those politicians who have spent their careers in full-time pander mode. Like, say, 95% of them.
Back at the beginning of this year, Obama gave a series of interviews to David Remnick of The New Yorker. Remnick's article, which appeared in the January 27, 2014 issue of the magazine, closed with this revealing quote from Obama, talking about himself:
“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person. I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin. And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse.”
That self-assessment seems consistent with how Obama has conducted himself while in office. For that, and other reasons, I continue to think we're lucky to have him.
Now, if he could just lose the tan suit.
I will post again on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.