Obama Channels Mark Twain . . . Almost

May 1st, 2013

Yesterday’s presidential press conference set to mark the 100th day of President Obama’s second term included an interesting and perhaps telling exchange.

After listing all the failings of the president in the beginning of his second term, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked him, “Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through Congress?”

Muddling for a moment to find the right answer, Obama finally replied, “As Mark Twain said, you know, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”

That line caught my attention because as I recall (and looked up to confirm), Mark Twain actually reportedly said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

I don’t want to quibble over the subtle difference in the meaning of words, but I think this one is actually a biggie.  There is quite a bit of difference between something being “a little exaggerated” and being “greatly exaggerated.”

Perhaps this was something of a Freudian slip on the president’s part.  He’s not known to shy away from making grand pronouncements about himself even when unwarranted, so why didn’t he go all out and repeat what the famous humorist actually said?

Maybe it’s because deep down he knows that what he said is closer to the truth than the quote from Twain he attempted to borrow.

Presidents operate with little political capital from the moment they’re sworn in.  How they invest that capital determines how successful they are.  Second term presidents come to office with even less capital to spend.  That may account for why so many presidential second terms have either been less than stellar or outright disasters.

In Obama’s case, he came to office with a couple of huge assets but one giant liability.  On the positive side of the ledger, he can deliver a good speech and he’s an effective campaigner.  On the negative side, he has virtually no experience leading anything or legislating.  When he was a State Senator in Illinois, he studiously avoided participating in the legislative process and when he became a United States Senator, he spent most of his time running for president.

That probably accounts for what we now know as the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) which was principally written by congressional Democrats and rubberstamped by the president. What the press touts as his greatest legislative achievement really didn’t have that much to do with him in the first place if you study how it all came about.

Yesterday’s press conference revealed something we’ve all known but are just now fully coming to grips with.  Obama is not a good leader. Unfortunately, he’s the President of the United States, and I bet if we all sat down and wrote a job description for that position, we’d include “leadership ability” among the attributes we’d seek.

A few presidents in history managed to break out and show leadership despite a shaky start and lack of experience in that department.  For example, Harry S Truman began his presidency quite insecure.  Oh wait . . . he dropped the Atomic Bomb very early in his administration.  It took guts and some semblance of leadership to make that tough decision.  Okay, scratch Truman.  I’m sure I’ll think of someone, just not today.

So what do we do with a president who is clearly not handling his job very well?

I have an idea.  He’s very good at appearing cool and hip.  He and his family know how to travel and do interesting things.  How about a reality show from the White House? Since none of us can go in there anymore unless we’re very close friends or donors of the president or his party, I’m sure average Americans would tune in with more than the usual amount of curiosity. In fact, I bet it would be a hit.

That is, of course, just an idea and my humble attempt to make lemonade out of lemons.  Reader’s alternative suggestions are welcome.

Sadly, if we don’t get creative here, I’m afraid this is going to be a very long three and a half years.



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