Yesterday, the New York Times ran a long article detailing Valerie Jarrett’s role in the White House. It was not a flattering piece, since it made Jarrett look like Obama’s puppet master and, worse, it made Obama look like a weak and willing puppet.
Today, the New York Times has a long article detailing how cocky Obama is — and how it irritates other people to have him boasting and sticking his nose into everything. This is the lede:
As Election Day approaches, President Obama is sharing a few important things about himself. He has mentioned more than once in recent weeks that he cooks “a really mean chili.” He has impressive musical pitch, he told an Iowa audience. He is “a surprisingly good pool player,” he informed an interviewer — not to mention (though he does) a doodler of unusual skill.
It doesn’t get better after that description of his endless, insecure boasting:
Even by the standards of the political world, Mr. Obama’s obsession with virtuosity and proving himself the best are remarkable, those close to him say. (Critics call it arrogance.) More than a tic, friends and aides say, it is a core part of his worldview, formed as an outsider child who grew up to defy others’ views of the limits of his abilities. When he speaks to students, he almost always emphasizes living up to their potential.
But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. The cloistered nature of the White House amplifies those tendencies, said Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, adding that the same thing happened to his former boss. “There’s a reinforcing quality,” he said, a tendency for presidents to think, I’m the best at this.
For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer).
And on and on and on, with ever more examples of Obama being the person who has to one-up everyone else. Now, some could see this as an effort to show that Obama is driven by his personality to be the best president ever. I see this as a weak argument, since the last four years put the lie to that. The “best president ever” would have been able to turn the economy around, slow the ocean’s rise, and have the lion lie down with the lamb. Even a decent president could have stopped the economic free-fall with more market-savvy policies.
What this article really does is show that the president is a jerk. I mean, we’ve all known that person who compulsively boasts about his prowess. “Yeah, if I ever swam, I would have been faster than Michael Phelps.” “You read three books this week? I read four. All non-fiction. Three of them weighed more than 15 pounds — and that weight was measured on my Kindle.”
Indeed, this character-type is so old that even Jane Austen made fun of it. In Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, provides this wonderful literary moment (emphasis mine):
Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; any thing was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much. He now seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself as well as of Mr. Darcy. His eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity; and that her ladyship after a while shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged, for she did not scruple to call out,
“What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hear what it is.”
“We are speaking of music, Madam,” said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply.
“Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply.”
Lady Catherine is a figure of fun, but also of irritating nastiness. By painting Obama as a competitor compulsive to the point of meaningless, the New York Times has turned him into a living, breathing Lady Catherine. That can’t be good.
And that’s where the peculiar part of the article comes in. If this election boils down — as it seems it will — to the “likability factor,” why in the world is the New York Times publishing an article two months out that makes Obama look like the ultimate jerk?
Could it be that the Times is leaving a sinking ship? After all, HillBuzz, which is not necessarily a reliable source, avers that the Obamas have already given up and bought a luxurious Hawaiian mansion, far from Chicago’s crime-ridden streets. I guess the thought is that Obama, once retired, will be able to boast that he bought the best post-White House ever.