Barack Obama fell in love with the sound of his voice at an early age. It’s the love that dares shout its name, and will not die even when everybody else has quit listening.
The president traveled this week to Hollywood, the reliable refueling stop for Democratic candidates, and preached to show-biz friends who paid up to $65,000 each for supper and had to eat it in a tent in the backyard. Everybody who was anybody was there, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tom Rothman, James Brolin. Barbra Streisand, no doubt hoping Bubba might drop by unexpectedly, was there, too.
The president didn’t have to pay for a plate of beans and cornbread, so he returned the gift with his voice. Washington, he said, isn’t working because it’s “dysfunctional” and despite everything he has done “there’s still disquiet around the country.” (Jimmy Carter called it “malaise.”)
Mr. Obama, like Mr. Jimmy, railed about disquiet and dysfunction on the Potomac, forgetting that he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which is well within the District of Columbia and the fount of the bad stuff. The president is the very point of Washington. If Washington isn’t working, maybe it has something to do with what he brought to town.
But no, it’s not him. The disquiet, “an anxiety and a sense of frustration,” he said, “afflicts the body politic despite “a list of accomplishments.” It’s everybody else’s fault. It always is. He warned of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” in the midterm congressional elections, where “people who have the most at stake in a government that works, opt out of the system, and those who don’t believe government can do anything, are empowered. Gridlock reigns, and we’ve got this downward spiral of even more cynicism, and more dysfunction. And we have to break out of that cycle, and that’s what this election is all about.” So break out your checkbooks, and buy some more dysfunction.
The president has said he doesn’t actually think very much of Abraham Lincoln’s famous description of America as “the exceptional nation,” and likened Lincoln’s foolish notion to something everybody — even Britain and Greece — thinks about their country. But he reassured the pretty people that he doesn’t buy the idea that America is on a “downward trajectory,” and “by every indicator we are better positioned than any country on earth to succeed in this knowledge economy in the 21st century.” This sounds like his speechwriter found an old copy of remarks from Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign, but Mr. Obama quickly cut to the point of his tribute to all he has done, despite everything the opposition does to spoil every occasion.
“What is absolutely true is that if we don’t make good choices, we could decline, and we’re not going to make good choices unless we break out of this cycle, in which dysfunction breeds cynicism, and we have to break out of it, and that happens during the midterms.”
This was a week when the president tried to manufacture distraction and enthusiasm simultaneously, difficult even for the world’s greatest orator. He tried to distract attention from the sins and omissions of his administration, to get people talking about death by approaching weather instead of death in Benghazi, or the manifold abuses of the Internal Revenue Service. He stopped in Arkansas en route to California to be photographed standing tall amid the ruins of a town destroyed by a tornado, just two days after the release of a new government report with warmed-over predictions of deadly weather He was met by skeptics and suspicion.
“A lot of people [here] are claiming it’s negative that he’s coming here,” a man surrounded by the rubble of what used to be the town of Vilonia told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Remembering his Southern manners, he added: “but I think it’s important.”
When the term “global warming” didn’t work, the White House tried “climate change,” and that didn’t work, either. Now Mr. Obama wants everyone to call it “climate disruption” (which is what happens to the picnic at the fifth-Sunday meeting at the little country church). He warned that “climate disruption” is not in the future, it’s now. But except for the tornado in Vilonia, his stage prop this week, epic disaster is still in the future — just another gateway claim. Gateway claims, as Arkansas novelist Charles Portis observed in “Dog of the South,” only mean that “we’re not there yet.”
That’s the story of Barack Obama’s promise of hope and change. We’re not there yet, but we’re as close as we’ll ever be.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.