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10 July 2013

The 'Being There' President

By Michael Walsh

Bleat of the day comes from the Hill:

Supporters and critics of President Obama are looking for leadership on many pressing issues from the White House, but many believe they are not getting it.

On Monday, Obama held a Cabinet meeting and spoke about his effort to modernize government databases.

He avoided public remarks on several matters seen as more pressing, such as turmoil in Egypt and the wider Middle East, faltering efforts to reform immigration in the U.S. and the rocky implementation of ObamaCare. Instead the president spoke to a small group of reporters about his efforts to improve databases and make government more efficient.

“We’re working to make huge swaths of your government more transparent and more accountable than ever before,” Obama said at the White House.

Even to the most loyal Obama supporters, the move seemed irrelevant, even odd.

’Tis a puzzlement, as the King of Siam said to Anna, although on closer inspection, perhaps not really. When the presidency is an entry-level position for a man with a resume as thin as Barack Obama’s, “leadership” in the conventional sense is just about the last thing you’d expect from him. Comparisons to Chance the Gardener from Being There have been made since the beginning of the Obama presidency, and one can easily imagine him saying something like, “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.” To which the media nods it head and replies, “Hmm.” In fact, it pretty much happens on a daily basis.

But here we are. In an unknown Illinois state senator, an emissary from the Daley Machine in Chicago, liberals — okay, David Axelrod — saw in Obama (as he himself noted in one of his autobiographies) what they wanted to see, and that was the second coming of Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ, plus “social justice” payback. I take Charles Kesler’s point in his astute analysis of the Obama phenomenon, I Am the Change, that presidental “leadership” is largely a concept created by the Progressives to effect change faster than the slowpoke Constitution otherwise would have allowed, and is not necessarily to be cheered:

Wilson was the first to celebrated “leadership” as an essential part of American democracy. Alongside the living constitution, leadership was the second element he contributed to the political definition of America’s new liberalism. It’s had a booming career.

Obama’s notion of “leadership,” though, is nothing like Wilson’s or Roosevelt’s or Johnson’s. In one sense, it’s less dangerous, in that he simply lacks the tools to force Congress to his will. (The successful passage of Obamacare was due not to him but to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.) In another, however, it’s more dangerous since, in a reverse of Reagan, Obama speaks directly to the media over the heads of Congress and the American people, and is thus protected and served by the alternative view of reality they dish out daily to their readers and viewers. And in this world, Obama is the perpetual outsider, heroically running against the very change he is supposed to represent, an eternal candidate for a future office yet unthought of. With no previous executive or leadership experience, he dances with what brung him to the pinnacle of political power: his ability to stand before an audience and make them feel good about themselves. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss famously burbled that Obama was “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” But that assessment says more about Beschloss than it does Obama.

The bleat goes on:

Republicans said the administration appeared rudderless, while Democrats said Obama needed to be more proactive instead of reactive.

“If I were to guess, I would venture to say that some people would like to see him speak up on these issues a little more than he’s doing,” said a former administration official. “I think some people want to see more, not less, of him.”

Tony Fratto, who served as White House deputy press secretary under former President George W. Bush, defended the Obama administration’s approach in handling the database announcement.

Fratto said any administration bears the responsibility of running the government.

“It’s the world’s biggest operation and things like databases and technology are huge and confounding,” Fratto said.

Still, he acknowledged: “In this environment, it does feel like a non-sequitur with what’s going on in this world.”

But that’s reality in the post-presidential presidency. Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, the NSA, the Foggy Bottom mess, Egypt, and the looming disaster of Obamacare are yesterday’s news. Today, we’re talking about modernizing government databases...

Wait a minute — what

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