Are you getting the feeling that Obama, contrary to the hope hype, is a very grim, depressed man? Since the precise moment of his inauguration, his every pronouncement has been redolent of hopelessness and anger.
My feeling is that, if Obama is going to style himself the second Roosevelt when it comes to American economics, he needs to focus not just on Roosevelt’s economic policies, but also on his style. After all, the economic policies were a disaster, and almost certainly extended the Great Depression by years. Rather than getting angered by Roosevelt’s perpetual failures to repair the economy, though, the American people were endlessly forgiving. Why? Because the public Roosevelt was perpetually jaunty and optimistic. Even as his policies dragged the economy down, down, down, his personality lifted the American people up.
Just think about one of the most iconic images to emerge from the Roosevelt presidency:
Could anything be more cheerful and energized than that uptilted chin and cheerful grin? The cigarette was an exclamation point to the happiness and energy he radiated.
Compare the ebullience of Roosevelt to the now famous picture of Obama smoking:
The two picture are like mirror images of each other. Everything about Obama droops — his eyes, the angle of his head, his shoulders. He looks grim, drab and depressed.
Now, I appreciate that these two photographs reflect milliseconds in time and that within milliseconds after the camera flashed, Roosevelt’s face could have turned down and Obama’s brightened up. But the fact is that those two pictures are of a piece with what we know about those men’s personalities. In speech after speech, Roosevelt heartened the American people:
“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”
“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”
“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
And then there are Obama’s statements, now that he’s no longer in hope-filled campaign mode and actually has to govern this messing, sprawling, vital country:
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
Wow. That’s just from one speech (his inaugural), and came about 30 seconds into the speech. Pardon me while I stick my head in the nearest gas oven. Nor did it get better afterwards, as he wallowed in a muddle of cliches, wonkish proposals, slightly twisted historical references, and periodic strained attempts at uplift.
Nor have his speeches been better since then. We’ve had threatening anger (as well as a stupid insistence on the end of business profitability):
There will be time for them [Wall Street Bankers] to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses,” Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. “Now’s not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them.
We’ve had unrelievedly grim economic forecasts:
President Barack Obama said the economy is “a continuing disaster” for families as he signed executive orders to strengthen unions and put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a task force on the middle class.
“The recession is deepening and the urgency of our economic crisis is growing,” Obama said at a White House ceremony, citing Commerce Department figures showing the economy shrank 3.8 percent at an annual pace in the last three months of 2008.
And we’ve had self-abasement and recrimination purportedly on behalf of all Americans:
And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.
And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved.
No wonder the Iranians are crowing about American weakness and passivity. Obama embodies these failings, and promises to impose them on our nation.
In other words, everything that we see in that picture of Obama and his cigarette, we see in his speeches, predictions, threats and apologies. He’s got all of Roosevelt’s vices (economic insanity) and none of his virtues (good cheer and optimism). Americans like optimism, because they are essentially an optimistic people. It is our national nature, and I do wonder how long it will be before they turn against this man, just as they turned against Carter, the last president to try to drag the American people into his own personal depression.
UPDATE: Bob Parks has yet another example of Obama’s grim rhetorical style. Giving people reality checks is one thing. Creating a sense of crisis to enhance the ability to carry out an agenda is also one thing. But this unrelenting negativity is pathological and I think it transcends any agenda (although I don’t deny that the agenda is there).
UPDATE II: I have learned since writing the above post that the picture of Obama was almost certainly photoshopped to add in a cigarette. I don’t think that changes the substance of my post at all, which is about Obama’s negativity versus Roosevelt’s buoyancy, but it’s important to be accurate about things.