I thought she’d already finished dumping on The One in last month’s column but no, apparently she’s just getting started. At the rate she’s going, she’ll have fully atoned to the right for being soft on Obama in the last election within, oh, 30 or 40 years.
Republicans are worried about the power of incumbency, and it is a real power. Presidents command the airwaves, as they used to say. If they want to make something the focus of national discussion, they usually can, at least for a while. And this president is always out there, talking. But—and forgive me, because what I’m about to say is rude—has anyone noticed how boring he is? Plonking platitude after plonking platitude. To see Mr. Obama on the stump is to see a man at the podium who’s constantly dribbling away the punch line. He looks pleasant but lacks joy; he’s cool but lacks vigor. A lot of what he says could have been said by a president 12 or 20 years ago, little is anchored to the moment. As he makes his points he often seems distracted, as if he’s holding a private conversation in his head, noticing crowd size, for instance, and wishing the front row would start fainting again, like they used to.
I listen to him closely and find myself daydreaming: This is the best-tailored president since JFK. His suits, shirts and ties are beautifully cut from fine material. This is an elegant man. But I shouldn’t be thinking about that, I should be thinking about what a powerful case he’s making for his leadership. I’m not because he’s not…
There is a growing air of incompetence around Mr. Obama’s White House. It was seen again this week in Supreme Court arguments over the administration’s challenge to Arizona’s attempted crackdown on illegal immigration. As Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News wrote, the court seemed to be disagreeing with the administration’s understanding of federal power: “Solicitor General Donald Verrilli . . . met resistance across ideological lines. . . . Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is ‘not selling very well.’ ” This follows last month’s embarrassing showing over the constitutionality of parts of ObamaCare.
You know what I thought of when I read those lines about O being immaculately tailored? Yeah, you know:
That first encounter is still vivid in Brooks’s mind. “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”
I take it Noonan didn’t intend to echo another “Obamican’s” famous line about Obama’s pants crease, just because if she had she surely would have cited it. It’s too nifty a metaphor for popular disillusionment with O to let it pass by. Brooks saw how sharply The One was dressed and took it as a sign of omnicompetence; for him, as for the larger electorate, Obama’s glamour informed judgments about his talent. Years later, here’s Noonan looking at the same pants crease and thinking it’s all he has left. He’s become, almost literally, an empty suit.
As for her point that “a lot of what he says could have been said by a president 12 or 20 years ago,” that’s because he doesn’t want to engage with the major challenge of his day. He knows the numbers on spending and entitlements. He could lead the reform effort if he wanted to, but that would mean great electoral peril and ferocious pushback from the left. It’s a kamikaze mission politically and he’s simply not going to undertake something like that, so he sticks with bromides about fairness and small-ball gimmicks like the Buffett Rule to pass the time and position himself for November. That is to say, he won’t talk about what a president today should talk about and he can’t talk about economic growth a la Bill Clinton because there just isn’t enough of it so he has no choice but to talk about green energy and the importance of a college education and yadda yadda yadda. Even his rhetoric is far less exalted than it used to be, and no wonder. Who could get lyrical for that?