The editorial page of The Washington Post has a well-established reputation for its hawkish stance on fiscal matters, so it was no surprise that Fred Hiatt, the page’s editor, devoted his column yesterday to the deficit.
But, in a twist, Hiatt was actually writing about Barack Obama’s “happiness deficit,” and how it’s affecting his presidency. Let’s read along:
Here’s a theory about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn’t seem all that happy being president.
Now that you mention it, photos of the president looking pensive/tired/distraught do seem to be more common lately. But here’s an alternate theory: He decided to devote his first year to passing a major overhaul of health care, which has unsurprisingly turned out to be a challenge. Also, the economy stinks. But actually, times may not be that tough after all: there’s no telling yet, but that health care reform thing might actually happen. And at least he’s more popular than the rest of Washington.
I know, it’s the world’s hardest job, and between war and the world economy collapsing, he didn’t have the first year he might have wished for. And, yes, he’s damned either way: With thousands of Americans risking their lives overseas and millions losing their jobs at home, we’d slam him if he acted carefree.
Yes, we would—because no matter what the president is doing, someone in the press is prepared to write a column arguing that he’s doing it all wrong.
Still, I think Americans want a president who seems, despite everything, to relish the challenge. They don’t want to have to feel grateful to him for taking on the burden.
Partial credit for phrasing this as “I think Americans want…” rather than simply “Americans want.” But next time, take Henry Farrell’s advice—substitute “I want” for “Americans want,” and save readers the trouble.
I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when Obama confidant David Axelrod, noting that the president always makes time for his daughters’ recitals and soccer games, told the New York Times, “I think that’s part of how he sustains himself through all this.”
Really? Is the presidency something to sustain yourself through?
Aspiring column writers: note the skillful use of a weeks-old boilerplate quote from an aide as the threadbare cloth from which a new column is spun. Also, the affectation of populist resentment. That’s how the pros do it!
He did ask for this job; we didn’t make him take it. And so it seems fair to ask: What part of it does he enjoy? Formulating rational solutions to complex problems, for sure.
That seems like it could be useful in a president.
But schmoozing with foreign leaders, like President George H.W. Bush? In a column last week, Jackson Diehl pointed out that Obama’s relations with just about every counterpart are prickly.
Schmoozing with foreign leaders can be good, or it can be bad. (As Diehl noted, that whole thing with W. looking into Putin’s soul didn’t pan out too well.) But weren’t we talking about what “Americans want” from their president? This is, maybe, priority number 7,608 on that score.
How about horse-trading or arm-twisting, like President Lyndon Johnson? George Will last week cited a recent Obama statement on the health-care bill (“Unfortunately, what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people”) to point out that Obama views such politics with a certain disdain.
OK, this is a fair point regarding what Obama said. On the other hand, his actions don’t exactly indicate an unwillingness to make a deal.
Putting his feet up on his desk after a long day and chewing over events with aides, like Bill Clinton? If insider accounts are to be believed, Obama would rather preside briskly over the meeting and then go up to the family quarters or out for some basketball.
Clinton was routinely criticized as unpresidential and inefficient on precisely these grounds. See again the point re: presidential strategy/style as that an all-purpose topic of criticism.
Does he recharge by heading back to the campaign trail, rolling up his sleeves and wading into the crowd? Obama will do that if he has to, to save his health-care bill. But he can’t persuade us he gets much of a kick out of it.