Yesterday I got around to reading Peter Baker’s New York Times Magazine article “The education of a president” in hard copy. One comes away from the article with the uncomfortable feeling that Obama thinks he’s just too damned good for us.
Baker’s article made news in the middle of last week as a result of Obama’s acknowledgment that he didn’t know “shovel-ready” from a hole in the ground (to borrow the formulation of Mickey Kaus). In other words, he wasn’t lying to us when he sold us his trillion-dollar “stimulus” bill of goods. He just didn’t know what he was talking about.
I found a couple things of interest in the article beyond the “shovel-ready” quote that Baker puts near the top. Baker asked Obama about his messianic pretensions (my words, not his). Here is the passage:
When Obama secured the Democratic nomination in June 2008, he told an admiring crowd that someday “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.”
I read that line to Obama and asked how his high-flying rhetoric sounded in these days of low-flying governance. “It sounds ambitious,” he agreed. “But you know what? We’ve made progress on each of those fronts.” He quoted Mario Cuomo’s line about campaigning in poetry and governing in prose. “But the prose and the poetry match up,” he said. “It would be very hard for people to look back and say, You know what, Obama didn’t do what he’s promised. I think they could say, On a bunch of fronts he still has an incomplete. But I keep a checklist of what we committed to doing, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we talked about during the campaign. And I hope as long as I’m president, I’ve got a chance to work on the other 30 percent.”
Baker takes another whack at Obama’s promise of deliverance:
But save the planet? If you promise to save the planet, might people think you would, you know, actually save the planet? He laughed, before shifting back to hope and inspiration. “I make no apologies for having set high expectations for myself and for the country, because I think we can meet those expectations,” he said. “Now, the one thing that I will say — which I anticipated and can be tough — is the fact that in a big, messy democracy like this, everything takes time. And we’re not a culture that’s built on patience.”
Yeah, it’s hard out here for a messiah.
And then there is this:
To better understand history, and his role in it, Obama invited a group of presidential scholars to dinner in May in the living quarters of the White House. Obama was curious about, among other things, the Tea Party movement. Were there precedents for this sort of backlash against the establishment? What sparked them and how did they shape American politics? The historians recalled the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, the Populists in the 1890s and Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s. “He listened,” the historian H. W. Brands told me. “What he concluded, I don’t know.”
C’mon, man, who are those “presidential scholars”? Good grief. If the best they can do is to liken a movement devoted to the restoration of limited constitutional government to the Know-Nothings, the Populists, and Father Coughlin, they really should have tried harder. I doubt they got any resistance from President Obama, whose knowledge even of relatively recent American history is pitiful.