Over the years, I’ve analogized parenting to an airplane flight. Think of the children as being the passengers in the plane of life. When they act out, or when the flight gets bumpy, they want to hear a confident voice from the cockpit reiterating the rules (“fasten your seat belts, stop running up and down the aisles, do not party in the restrooms”) and assuring them that all is well (“Folks, we’re going through a bumpy patch right now, but we’re circling around the center, and expect to have smooth sailing in about ten minutes.”).
Silence from the cockpit would be unnerving. The fear factor would kick in, though, if the children suddenly heard the parent pilot confessing helplessness: “Folks, there’s a big storm ahead and, frankly, we have no idea how to handle it.”
Even worse would be a pilot who, after confessing helplessness, disavows any responsibility for the problem: “Folks, there’s a big storm ahead, and I’m very upset at Boeing for not giving me sufficient instructions for flying this plane around the storm. It’s also the weather service’s fault, because they didn’t warm me that there might be a storm. And you guys need to stop screaming in the back of the plane, because it’s making it hard for me to concentrate. I’m trying here, but with everyone else screwing up, there’s not much I can do.” Hearing this blame litany would be every bit as frightening as have the click and buzz of the intercom be followed by the pilot screaming “We’re all going to die!!!”
Children aren’t the only ones who find themselves in a plane of life, hurtling through space, with only minimal control over the situation. We Americans are flying along in the Plane of State. Prior to boarding, we exert what control we can by electing our pilot and crew (the President and Congress). After the election, though, all we can do is sit back and trust that they can handle the plane.
When the Plane of State has a smooth flight, we don’t think much about what’s going on in the cockpit or what kind of maintenance work was done on the plane. However, when we hit bumpy weather, or get word that there are terrorists in the skies, it depends entirely on the messages we receive from captain and crew whether we feel despair and helplessness, or something more hopeful and calm.
In those dire circumstances, we want a confident, Chuck Yeager-ish voice coming from the cockpit, assuring us that the situation is temporary, that the captain is in control, that the plane is safe, and that it will be clear sailing, followed by a safe landing, very soon. That was what the American people got back in 1981 from Pilot/President Reagan. Sadly, what we’re getting with Pilot/President Obama is a shrill, panic-stricken whine, consisting in equal parts of helplessness and blame.
UPDATE: David Foster’s comment extends the analogy beautifully:
This “pilot’s” communication style leaves much to be desired, to be sure, but–to continue the analogy–I’m mainly concerned about his fundamental lack of understanding of the basic principles of aviation. Obama is like someone who once read a book for 4th graders on “How To Fly Airplanes” and has steadfastly refused to study the subject in any more depth. He steadfastly believes that the stick or yoke is the “up/down” control, because that’s what it said in his children’s book, and will attempt to deal with an aerodynamic stall by pulling back on it hard.