The Banality of Obama

Pundits have been critiquing the new administration for its socialism, for its willful ignorance of foreign policy, for its puerile missteps, but the salient fact of the Obama Presidency is its banality.  He who promised change has dredged up the failed nostrums of the past as if they were something new and fresh.  In fact, the ordinariness, the dullness, the lifelessness of the Obama Administration is obvious.

What is the answer to a collapsing economy?  Obama simply resorts to the seventy-five year old policies of FDR.  When the New Deal began it was, at least, new.   It is perfectly right to judge the New Deal a mistake with the perfect vision of hindsight, but at least in 1933 the New Deal was a radical departure from the surplus budgets and modest federal role which had been the tradition of American peaceful national government. 

It seems as if Obama cannot think of anything more creative than doing what Franklin Roosevelt did but on a grander scale.  When JFK and Reagan slashed taxes, that was revolutionary.  When Truman endorsed the Marshall Plan, that was something new.  But Obama money to throw at domestic programs, that is robotic governance.

What is Obama's foreign policy? It is a return to the naiveté of Woodrow Wilson of a century ago and to the sanctimonious silliness of Jimmy Carter three decades ago.  Evil men are murdering innocent people and reveling in their mayhem?  The culprit cannot be these evil enemies of America.  It must be the imperfect morality of our nation. Our nation must try to understand those who hate us for being us.  We must try in our time, as Neville Chamberlain did in his time, to parlay with the "moderate" wing of the National Socialist German Workers Party or, in our case, with the "moderate" wing of the Taliban.  Forget the stupidity of this.  Just think about the blandness of this approach. 

What is the answer to our problem of national morale?  President Obama will use the bully pulpit - again and again and again.  Teddy Roosevelt coined that term ... over one hundred years ago.  In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, this was a relatively novel approach.  T.R. understood media and mass communications.  Americans responded to a truly bold, inspiring character in the White House.  When his cousin, FDR, used the fireside chat three decades later, his considerable charm and the novelty of radio helped him reassure a frightened nation.  But the most commonplace presidential politics of the last five decades has been an American president addressing the nation on television or coming out (usually every week or so) with a new campaign or policy.  

President Obama seems to think that if he just does even more of what nearly every president in the last fifty years has done, miracles will follow.

Reagan did great things.  He decided to win the Cold War.  He cut tax rates and federal regulation.  Ronald Reagan took the tide of history and turned it away from the dreary meanders of the postwar world and channeled events towards new and happy futures.  

John Kennedy actually thought about things like "flexible response" in national security policy or landing an American on the moon before the end of the decade.  JFK slashed capital gains tax rates, trying something truly different.  Reagan and Kennedy, as much as any other two modern presidents, took gambles.  They tried new ideas.  They inspired us. 

Great presidents do that.  George Washington eschewed personal power for the glorious goal of a limited presidency:  America would have no kings.  Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of America with a daring purchase.  Lincoln fought a horrific war to preserve the Union.  Teddy Roosevelt brought a genuine vitality and courage into the presidency.  Sometimes these men failed, but they all tried to lead the nation rather than follow the dull force of past directions.

Obama, by stark contrast, seems to think that doing what we have been doing will somehow bring a better America.  What if Obama had promised within his term of office to consolidate the cabinet into eight offices?  Even Richard Nixon had the imagination to propose that idea.  What if Obama proposed a radical tax simplification, even if rates stayed high? That would be something to savor:  he could remain a socialist, but at least stand against hopeless confusion. 

Instead we have a president who is not even an innovative ideologue.  He is more like a cipher.  His rhetoric is lifeless and poll driven.  His almost daily new campaigns reflect nothing more creative than the last news cycle. 

People worry that Barack Obama is an American Lenin.  No:  Barack Obama is an American Konstantin Chernenko, a very dull man with very tired programs.   The invented giddiness which Obama gets from the mainstream media is already getting tedious to the public. Pravda reports of addresses by General Secretary Chernenko invariably informed readers of the "prolonged, stormy applause" which followed. That is the banality of Obama.

Bruce Walker is the author of two books:  Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.