A lot will be made, and rightfully so, of the recent death of Osama bin Laden. Plenty of credit will be spread around, from heroic operatives to intelligence agencies and mostly, perhaps too much, to President Obama. Surely a massive, nationalistic victory will provide the President with a much-needed bump in the polls. Good for him. He deserves a little extra credit, a little gravitas, a little hype, for his steady helm of our country’s ship in a wild sea of ongoing crisis and partisanship. So, let the flag wavers do what they do for a while; let the chanters chant. And, best of all, let average Americans feel good, and relieved, for a moment. It’s all been earned, many times over, in modern America. The problem, though, with modern America is that this nationalistic euphoria won’t last.
“Country first” is a campaign slogan. The partisan attacks will come back, stronger than ever after an Obama victory of this magnitude—one that leaves him looking tough and savvy, or as tough and savvy as an arugula-eating commander-in-chief possibly could. And the best way for the president to combat this sure-to-come siege on his credibility and mettle was on display last weekend, though it had little to do with what happened in Pakistan. Saturday nights’ correspondence dinner was when the President’s real prowess, his true might, was unfurled.
If you didn’t get catch the C-Span program or hear the reviews on Sunday morning, the president, in strictly show biz terms, killed. He took the stage in front of an audience of media and congress, a sizable contingent of his two biggest detractors, and the man dazzled. With great wit, delivery, a dash of self-deprecation and a steely smirk, the president flayed his denouncers and potential challengers. Michele Bachman, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlentey all felt the whip of the President’s lash. Openly humiliated were the birthers and prompters and assorted other loonies who, having been somewhat validated by much of the media in attendance, were made to look idiotic and irrelevant, which they deserved. And of those media enablers, Fox News, appropriately, was singled out for a snarky barb.
Of course, the primary punching bag was Donald Trump, both a so-called challenger and a wingnut (like Bachman, but more of a media darling these days). And how Trump’s wacky platform (which is what, exactly?) and talk of a bid for the Oval Office–the most powerful position in the world–got this far is reflective of the decline of American politics. But that’s over now. Consider Trump finished. President Obama was the stealth operative that evening, and “The Donald” got handed his walking papers.
The question is, Where does this Obama go sometimes? There’s the man with the command of every room he enters. The candidate who made the Clintons act like petulant children and turned maverick McCain into a desperate geezer. Whither goes the guy with the cool swagger, command of the facts and the gift of oration? The guy who packs avenues and stadiums from Berlin to Des Moines?
He was the one many of us had been waiting for: the one who brought clarity to an American exceptionalism so clouded by the post 9/11 whirlwind and media maelstrom that bluster, fiction and so-called patriotism overwhelmed truth, justice, and the American way. But because of many work-related priorities, that President Obama has been decidedly absent from public view. The reality is that he’s accomplished an incredible amount in his first term, in the face of massive obstacles; but, all recognition of said truth aside, we no longer live entirely in a reality-based world, and the president’s been too absent in his public presence: you can’t inspire hope from the shadows; you can’t fight lies from outside the ring.
There’s an important scene in the 1993 film A Bronx Tale. In a quiet moment of guidance, the neighborhood crime boss, Sonny, explains the key to leadership. Sonny tells the young protagonist that he holds power over the neighborhood simply by being there. He could live anywhere he wants, but he chooses to be nearby. That way, his followers see him often and know that they are safe. At the same time, his enemies see him, too, and know they are not safe. Availability, Sonny tells the kid. Availability.
President Obama’s absence has allowed him to be labeled by his enemies as ineffective and incompetent. Soft. An elitist. No leader of men. Candidates, of both parties in the last elections, denounced and distanced themselves from him as a successful campaign tactic. As a result, Democrats took a “shellacking” at the polls.
On top of the negative labels are mounds of misinformation: the President is a socialist of Kenyan birth and Keynesian doctrines who doesn’t believe America is exceptional. No wonder his wife hates America and calls our kids fat.
All of this mislabeling and misinformation could be remedied through the simple act of availability. Showing up on The View once in a while will not do it. The president needs to be seen and heard on a regular basis. At crucial moments and quiet moments alike. He needs to sway into friendly forums and work his supporters in the charming and intellectual way for which he is remarkably capable. It’s a tactic he owned as a candidate and has, mostly, ditched as a president. Yes, he’s much busier now. But he needs to let the people who love him know that he is there. Availability.
And, just as importantly as being there for his supporters, he needs to use his position to hammer those posers who spread the false gospel of Obama, or who hold up policy using horseshit logic or political football. The President needs to fully recognize that there is an entire political party armed with its own multimedia machine that is out to get him (and to make a profit, which they can pump back into election ads).
Sonny from A Bronx Tale would never stand for this. Not on Belmont Avenue or Washington DC. Nowhere. Period. In the film, Sonny knows how to get attention through the act of straight-talk and slapping. The president needs to do some straight talking and slapping (proverbial, of course), just like he did during the White House Correspondents Dinner. This is not the press secretary’s job. And it’s certainly not Jon Stewart’s job.
Our President is an honest, hard-working, reasonable man. He also has an immense gift for communication. All of these talents need to be on display on a regular basis. There are many battles ahead, starting with the looming budget crisis. He stepped up a few weeks back and damaged the media-darling of Paul Ryan. He needs to do it again. And again. The president needs to be clear and present on all matters of national importance. He needs to be available.