April 21, 2010
The President Who Won't Grow Up
Everything I need to know about Barack Obama I learned as a Cub Scout den leader.
Last week I watched an American president and a Russian leader sign a START treaty. I almost checked the calendar, wondering if I'd been transported back to 1980. In news stories of the summit I found a link to an article Barack Obama had written in 1983 while at Columbia University titled "Breaking the War Mentality." Back then, Obama was firmly in the nuclear freeze camp. It's true that many of us held views as college students that seem quaint and naïve after two or three decades. But compare the (nearly incomprehensible) writing of the 22-year-old Obama to the news reports last week. Incredibly, Obama's worldview has not changed. The Soviet Union is kaput, he is the leader of the free world, and he's still thinking the same way. He's the president who won't grow up.
Years ago, R. Emmett Tyrell characterized Bill Clinton as the "Boy President." In Barack Obama, I believe we are seeing the return of the little boy as president. As a former Cub Scout den leader, I spent a lot of time around boys. It struck me that the president exhibits classic little boy behavior. Here are a few examples:
Boys are bored by day-to-day work. Almost immediately after his inauguration, Obama started complaining. At a photo op at a school in February, 2009 he said, "We were just tired of being in the White House." The First Couple constantly leave the White House, putting the "frequent" into frequent flier.
Anyone who has been a Scout leader, coach, or teacher knows how quickly boys get bored. I used to plan extra activities, just in case the Cubs got fidgety. But an amazing thing happens as boys grow up: They are able to stay put for an hour. They stop whining, "This is boring!" and put in the necessary work to earn a merit badge or progress to the next rank. President Obama, however, reminds me of the Scout who would goof off and refuse to work during the meetings but return the next week with all the requirements for the merit badge signed off by his parents. Everyone, even his fellow Scouts, knew he didn't do the work. Which brings us to:
Boys don't respect things they haven't earned. Every parent I know has a story of a child given an expensive toy who treats it carelessly. But the toy that he has saved his allowance for months to purchase is treated with respect and reverence.
Barack Obama doesn't respect the presidency because he didn't earn it. He had a wafer-thin résumé, no paper trail, and a suspect autobiography. It took massive lifting from the media, Hollywood, and his PR team to put him over the top. He is like the college student whose mom is writing his papers. He doesn't value the education he's receiving because he isn't earning it, and he certainly isn't paying for it. He also doesn't respect the professors who are letting him get away with it. Note how President Obama treats the media.
Boys love snack and game time. It didn't matter how much I lectured or how formal the occasion -- as soon as grace was over, my Cubs shot to the front of the buffet line like a horse heading back to the barn. The best way to get them to pay attention to me during meetings was by threatening withholding of the cupcakes.
I've been fascinated by what foodies the First Couple are. Last year, we were treated to breathless reports on the gourmet food being served at the White House and the hot restaurants the Obamas were jetting off to. Even pizza became a "big f-ing deal" (as the Vice President would say). Perhaps the Republicans could coax Obama into listening to them by threatening to withhold the Wagyu beef.
As far as games are concerned, boys are always ready to play. Red Light Green Light, marbles, even paper football across the dining room table brought joy to den meetings. The president also loves game time, whether he's playing or watching. When an unexpected day opened up last weekend, he hit the links. I'll never forget an interview I saw when Obama was President-Elect. He was answering questions in that serious, dull manner, when the interviewer asked him about college sports. The change in Obama's demeanor was startling. He sat up straight, his voice became animated, and for the first time, he seemed interested in the conversation.
Boys have difficulty grasping the importance of tradition and protocol. We had a strict rule for our Cub Scouts: When we were in public as a den, they had to wear their uniforms. We discovered that the simple act of wearing the traditional uniform encouraged the boys to behave and to be proud of being a Scout. As the boys got older, we would rejoice to see them teach the Tiger Cubs to take their hats off during prayer, or stand and salute when the flag passed by. The boys learned these traditions were part of what made them Scouts.
It breaks my heart to see our president making a serious statement without a tie, or giving the British Prime Minister a cheap, thoughtless gift. By belittling tradition, he diminishes the magnificence of the office of which he's been given temporary stewardship. This past weekend, the president was unable to attend the funeral of the Polish president. Instead of visiting the Polish embassy to sign the condolence book, or even staying quietly out of sight, President Obama decided to play golf.
Boys are always in a hurry. Watch any boy at a computer. It doesn't matter how fast the connection speed is, he'll soon be tapping his foot and sighing in frustration as he waits for a page to load. By the time they start crawling, boys are hardwired to hurry up.
A President who hasn't grown up says "We don't have a moment to spare" concerning his nearly trillion-dollar stimulus bill. He tells a pro-health care reform rally:
My question to them is, 'When's the right time? If not now, when? If not us, who? Is it a year from now or two years from now or five years from now or ten years from now?' I think it's right now ...
Hurry up! Do it now! There's no time -- to read, to discuss, to compromise, to think. Cub Scouts have den leaders to slow them down, to teach them about tradition, to reinforce the rewards of work. But there are no den leaders surrounding our president. That could change in November, however. If Republicans win the Congress, Representative Boehner and Senator McConnell will be leaders. Hopefully they can encourage our Cub Scout president that it's time to grow up.
Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.