Obama the Storyteller
President Obama unwittingly disclosed his modus operandi in a single statement back in 2012. The sentence explains why he has been able to both win elections and been such a failure once in office.
In the summer of 2012, President Obama refused to take responsibility for failures during his first term. As is his wont, he blamed others. In this case it was not the "usual suspect," Republicans, but all Americans. He told CBS News; Charlie Rose that his biggest mistake of his first term was not being a good enough storyteller:
"The mistake of my first term. . .was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."
Mitt Romney mocked his answer, "Being president is not about telling stories. Being president is about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead."
But why wouldn't Obama think that success was based on telling stories? After all, his ability to tell stories was key to his string of election victories. He never had much of a record to run on (many Americans overlooked or did not care that his career was marked by "voting present" when not claiming credit for work he did not do) so to fill up a sparse resume he created stories.
As many politicians have done, he published a book "Dreams from My Father; A Story of Race and Inheritance" that served as the foundation of his political biography. Many of his early supporters -- and later ones as well -- were inspired to support him after reading the book. But a book by the Washington Post reporter and highly-regarded biographer David Maraniss confirmed reports from others (including New York Times reporter Janny Scott in her own book, "A Singular Woman," about Obama's mother) that the book was filled with "errors" -- characters that never existed or were "composites," incidents that never happened, girlfriends that never existed, mentors that were misidentified, and more. There was a pattern in the book that became a pattern when Obama became a politician and then the President.
Perhaps the most disturbing fabrication in Obama's book was the tale that he routinely used when pushing ObamaCare and while on the campaign trail of his own mother's death. He blamed insurance companies for denying treatment. This was a blatant lie that he knew was a lie since he served not just as her son but as her lawyer.
During the 2008 presidential debate he peddled this fiction:
For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that.
Why was this lie more important than any others?
It was a foundational lie; a talisman for all that would follow for, as Victor Davis Hanson so keenly noted, a man who would lie about his own mother's death would "fudge" about anything, and do so shamelessly.
And so he has.
The storytelling worked for years. Indeed, they lifted him from a lowly state senator in Illinois to the highest office in the land. Such rags to riches stories are part of the American creed and often are celebrated. But another part of American history has been the role of con men.
He relied on his promises to, not to put too fine a word on it, dupe enough voters to put an X next to his name. When he was subjected to scrutiny, his critics were described as, inevitably, racists or birthers -- beyond the pale. He told people not to be "bamboozled" -- one of many instances of his practice of projection. To his base of low information voters, his words "hope and change" and "we are the ones we have been waiting for" were all the information they needed to cast their votes. Listeners swooned to the telepromptered mush regurgitated by him during his campaigns. It was manna from heaven. No wonder he is so welcome in Hollywood: moviemakers and Obama both manipulate people to suspend their disbelief.
Sadly, one of the features of modern technology is that it allows people to construct so-called "silos" around themselves -- narrowcasting "news" to them in such a limited and partisan way they see no need to look elsewhere for those pesky things known as facts. Wasn't the animated Life of Julia campaign just a juvenile fairytale, targeting the youth brigades that voted en masse for Obama? Why does the fable of the Pied Piper come to mind when considering how much harm Obama's policies have caused the youth who so yearned to believe in him?
But the chickens seem to have come home to roost, as Jeremiah Wright might trumpet.
Americans have finally seen the scandals emerge from the cocoon the media has wrapped around the White House. And his defenses are failing him. His storytelling has run its course, or so it seems. America does not view these as "phony scandals" -- there is phoniness aplenty in Washington these days but not when it comes to the range of scandals that have finally come to light.
The IRS scandal was not the work of a few wayward Cincinnati employees but extends far higher and deeper than Obama would have us believe. The IRS may be the most reviled part of the government and impacts many peoples' lives. The abuse of its powers to punish people who oppose Obama or desire reform in government strikes almost all Americans as just wrong and unfair in the most elemental sense.
Benghazi is not going away -- even if the media and Democrats treat the victims' families so disgracefully by ignoring their entreaties and dismissing their grief (compare and contrast the lionization of Cindy Sheehan for the years she attacked President Bush) and try to gag witnesses. Americans do care when people serving their nation are killed through the negligence of their leaders and those same leaders try to pin the blame on some gadfly in California.
All of his promises regarding Obamacare have been proven, as we approach its implementation and the other pesky thing known as reality intrudes, false.
His storytelling skills are failing him to such an extent that he says things easily proven to be lies ("I did not set a red line"). The toll of his storytelling has shown-he has run out of material.
The NSA scandal festers -- even if it takes foreign media to cover the topic because Obama has made America allergic to more government overreach and surveillance in his quest to expand his power over America while turning us into a banana republic, as Mark Steyn has written.
Granted, Obama has had some success in sending various scandals down the memory hole. Fast and Furious sadly seems to have vanished from the radar screens. Attorney General Eric Holder stonewalled and stalled the enquiring Republican minds in the House and ignored subpoenas. When that tactic started failing, President Obama rushed to shield Holder and the Department of Justice by invoking, in another example of Obama overreach, executive privilege.
But there are signs that the memory hole may be filling up. Perhaps the media has been offended by years of personal mistreatment by Obama's people. The surveillance of the Associated Press scandal may have been the straw that broke their collective back. The news that the Justice Department had been snooping into their phone records made big media the victims, for a change, instead of the rest of America. Certainly Benghazi victims and their survivors can be safely ignored but how dare the administration challenge the sanctity of journalists?
Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel (or pixels by the googolplex, in the updated version) is a cliché well-known in Washington. So the media suddenly seems more receptive to covering the lame duck in the White House who has mistreated them. Duck-hunting season has begun in Washington.
However, a different dynamic is at work. Successful con men, like sharks, need to keep moving They can move to an area, find and score against the marks and suckers, and move on to find a new group of innocent victims. But Obama has now been on the national stage for 7 years now; there is nowhere left to hide, no new suckers to find. Reality is there for all to see.
The media has taken note that Obama has been unable to move the needle on a range of issues (the nomination of Larry Summers, immigration, Syria, gun control, ObamaCare, the environment). Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote recently in Politico that "Barack Obama has still never really sold the American people on anything but himself." He did this by telling stories about himself and his plans -- stories peddled to the naïve and besotted ones. But Obama also has a history of fulfilling one of his promises -- that when others bring a knife to a fight to a political fight, he brings a gun. Character assassination of all his political opponents is a recurring motif. Was Romney really a felon, a tax cheat and murderer? Are Republicans all members of the Flat-Earth Society, birthers, greedy miscreants, racists and warriors against women? Yet he can deliver an error-ridden paean to the glories of Islam in Cairo, characterize terrorism as "man-made disasters," depict the Fort Hood massacre as "workplace violence" and use foggy language and euphemisms to fudge facts when it comes to dealing with America's adversaries.
He and Democrats have been flooding the airwaves and YouTube networks with this nonsense for years. Good stories need villains.
After 5-plus years of this invective, repeated ad nauseum, more and more people are tired of him. They no longer flock to their TVs to see him or crowd auditoriums to watch him. He should be glad he will not be running for election ever again. People are tuning him out.
So how has he responded? He has been hiring more storytellers and mythmakers to serve as his spinners.
One way he has reacted is by reaching out to the media and co-opting them by hiring an unprecedented number of the most well-connected to work for the White House (officially!). Recently, Richard Stengel, the top editor at Time for seven years, landed a new job at the State Department. He was at least the 15th major journalist to join Team Obama. They join siblings of the Presidents of ABC News and CBS News who work at the White House, including Ben Rhodes, who may have played a key role in the Benghazi cover-up.
Will this ploy work? How can Republicans respond?
Unfortunately, the GOP lacks good storytellers. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michael McConnell and others on the right might be fine men but can Americans relate to them as they did the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan?
Reverence for the office of the President should not shield this president from criticism. He certainly dishes it out, so why not let him have it as well? Obama has shown himself to be is unusually sensitive to criticism, whimpering that his opponents "talk about me like a dog." Even leaving aside the implied charge of racism in allegedly being treated as nonhuman, what President has ever whined in such a way?
When a bully has a glass jaw, doesn't that present a tempting target?