President Obama sat down for an interview with CBS News on Thursday, and issued this astonishing response to a question about what he thinks his ???biggest mistake??? has been:
???When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, the mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.???
This is a slap in the face to the millions of Americans left without jobs by Obama???s policies, as they confront the ruin of the American health care system. It???s also reminiscent of Obama???s bizarre insistence, on the eve of the Democrats??? 2010 election drubbing, that Americans were about to vote against his party because they???re too stupid to understand all that he???s done for them. Obama is telling his squalling child-citizens that they wouldn???t be crying about stagnant growth, trillions of dollars in new debt, ???green energy??? corruption, rampant abuse of executive power, and lost freedoms if Papa President had told them a better bedtime story before tucking them in.
Politicians of every party have a tendency to blame poor messaging for their reversals of fortune, but Obama has raised this to the level of dementia. It???s also absurd coming from a President who gives incessant speeches, and asserts executive power to over-ride Congress for political stunts. He hasn???t done much except tell stories. Remember the story about how America was filled with helpless sick people who couldn???t get health care coverage, so the government had to seize control of the insurance industry on their behalf? How about the one where Obama is a helpless spectator to his predecessor???s policies, three and a half years after taking office? Remember the fairy tale about how the transparently ineffective trillion-dollar Obama ???stimulus??? actually ???saved or created??? countless jobs that had nothing to do with it, even as the American job market disintegrated?
Who can forget Barack Obama???s chilling science-fiction story, ???Terminator 4: Rise of the ATMs,??? in which electronic technology was blamed for destroying jobs instead of creating them? Or the gruesome horror fantasy ???War on Women,??? with its shock ending of a top Obama advisor suddenly turning feral and lunging at stay-at-home mothers with her fangs bared? We???re all still living in the final grim chapters of Obama???s apocalyptic tale about an advanced economy forced to ???transform??? into a primitive pre-industrial state, powered by expensive and unreliable ???green energy,??? in order to avoid imaginary environmental terrors.
And it???s not as if Obama came into office without any story-telling experience. His autobiographies are works of fiction, after all.
Speaking more generally, this notion of the President as a kind of national cheerleader and morale officer is wrong-headed. It comes from the rise of the ???celebrity President,??? in which excessive emphasis is placed on the power of an office that was intended to execute the legislation passed by Congress, not single-handedly chart the course of the nation. Of course the Presidency always had powerful leadership functions, but in the mass-media era, they have eclipsed the proper duties of the office. The size and power of our central government has increased accordingly, as ???leadership??? mutated into ???control.??? The political class spends too much time idolizing FDR, and not enough time studying ???Silent??? Calvin Coolidge.
Mitt Romney???s reaction to the Obama interview made this point: ???President Obama believes that millions of Americans have lost their homes, their jobs and their livelihood because he failed to tell a good story. Being president is not about telling stories. Being president is about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead. No wonder Americans are losing faith in his presidency.???
???Narratives??? are important, but they should serve as a vehicle for explaining policy to the public, not a substitution for policy, or desperate attempts to distract the public from disastrous performance. What Obama describes as a ???mistake??? is closer to the job he should have done, and failed to perform. He???s told more than enough stories.