The (Not So) Great Pretender
A few years ago, the film Catch Me if You Can told the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., an extraordinary con man who managed to successfully impersonate a pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor all before the age of nineteen. I've noticed a number of similarities between Mr. Abagnale and our president. But when it comes to being a Great Pretender, Obama is sorely lacking.
Like Mr. Abagnale, Mr. Obama has been playing multiple parts ever since he came on to the national stage. Unlike Mr. Abagnale, the president is a lousy actor. The key to being a confidence man is the ability to inspire confidence. Confidence that you really are what you are pretending to be. Before embarking on the big con, President Obama could have used Frank's advice. For example:
Obama pretends to be a brilliant scholar. He successfully accomplished this during the campaign by sticking with a cool, calm persona and shutting up when the teleprompter was off. His acolytes in the press and Democratic Party were so eager to be conned that they did not notice that Obama never provided any evidence of a stratospheric IQ. College transcripts were safely locked away. The candidate started appearing nowhere without his teleprompter or glued to his campaign staff, especially after performances such as this and his chat with Joe the Plumber.
It's very easy to pretend to have all the answers during a campaign when no one actually expects you to solve anything. The funniest display of Obama's low-wattage brain power was during the foreign policy debate with Senator McCain, where the most frequent sentence he uttered was "I agree with John." It reminded me of the scene in Catch Me if You Can where Frank covers his lack of medical knowledge by asking one resident doctor what his diagnosis and plans for the patient are and then turning to another resident and asking repeatedly, "Do you concur?"
Remember when Senator McCain suspended his campaign to rush to Washington, D.C. and tend to the financial meltdown? Unfortunately for McCain, the Democrats had arranged for Obama to play leader at the meeting of the legislators with President Bush. The media was so busy swooning at Senator Obama that no one noticed that he contributed absolutely nothing of substance. His entire performance was the Obama equivalent of "Do you concur?"
The problem the president is running up against now that he pulled off the ultimate con job is that if you're going to continue this performance, you have to have people around you who are actually competent. Unfortunately, the White House is filled to the brim with incompetent fakes, all stumbling around and asking each other "Do you concur?"
Obama pretends to like people. It's impossible to pull off a successful con keeping your marks at arm's length. For example, look at all the congressmen who are re-elected over and over despite boorish, unethical, or even criminal behavior. John Murtha actually called his own constituents racists and rednecks. When he was reelected a short time later, conservatives were quick to credit all the pork that the congressman had brought home. But it took a lot more than goodies from D.C. to inspire that kind of loyalty. I believe that over the years, Murtha convinced his district that they were his family. And most families believe that while it's perfectly okay for them to criticize a family member, they resent hearing it from outsiders.
President Obama can pull off the messiah pose during a campaign, but he has a lot of difficulty pretending to care about individual people. He gave it a try early in his presidency at a town hall meeting where he attempted to comfort a homeless woman, Henrietta Hughes. Watch the Youtube. The president asks her name, pledges to help her, then approaches her to offer solace. I've seen patients approach the exam room in a proctologist's office with more enthusiasm than Obama walking toward Henrietta. Then he bends and gives her a very European peck on the cheek.
Now, close your eyes and imagine Bill Clinton at the same event. He would have soaked three hankies just listening to her story. Then, after mowing over two reporters and Monica Lewinsky, he would have enfolded Henrietta in a huge bear hug and most likely kept her firmly by his side for the rest of the meeting. Now that was pure, unadulterated talent.
Obama pretends to work. So far, Obama's approach to being president has appeared to be: 1. Make a speech outlining a policy (health care, stimulus). 2. Hand everything to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. 3. When the negative public reaction reaches critical mass, threatening passage of the legislation, spend the last two days before the vote twisting arms and making offers to Democrats. 4. Pass the legislation on a strictly party-line vote. 5. Make another speech taking full credit for whatever ended up passing.
Unless reading a teleprompter can be considered work, it's obvious that anything that can be considered an achievement of this presidency is due to Pelosi and Reid, with honorable mention in the arm-twisting category to Rahm Emmanuel. And in the rare instance where a goal of the president does not involve Congress (think the Chicago Olympics), Obama's "read a speech" approach to hard work is shown to be an utter failure. If there is even a tiny glimmer of light in the Gulf oil spill disaster, it's that the Obama con that he actually is working and involved has been exposed, even to mind-numbed Obama zombies like Chris Matthews and James Carville.
A fascinating illustration of Obama's work ethic can be seen in this article by Jack Cashill, who has done exhaustive research on the dubious authorship of Barack Obama's autobiography. Apparently a "hopelessly blocked" Obama gave all his notes to his friend Bill Ayers, who "helped" produce a manuscript. Exchange Nancy Pelosi for Bill Ayers, and we see that Obama's modus operandi toward actual work has not changed. Fellow Americans, we have elected Maynard G. Krebs.
Obama pretends to be a uniter. Millions of Americans were inspired when candidate Obama said, "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America." Since winning the presidency, however, Obama's actions have spoken much louder than his rhetoric. He referred to white Cambridge policemen as "acting stupidly." And in the ultimate act of division, he has excoriated one of our states, Arizona, for passing anti-illegal immigration legislation that his left-wing base does not like.
President Obama played the Big Con and became president by perfecting the art of appearing cool, calm, intellectual, and competent. Unfortunately, this seems to be the extent of his repertoire of emotions. My daughter is a talented theater director. I remember assisting her at an audition for a community theater production. The actors ran the gamut from hopeless to amazing. I perfected my poker face while watching my daughter attempt to coax emotion out of some of the more hapless auditioners. "Try reading the line like you're afraid," she'd suggest. The actor would then read the words exactly as he had previously. "We'll let you know," my daughter would say -- my cue to call in the next auditioner.
I'm reminded of those auditions every time the president steps up to the podium. No matter the crisis, the president reads his lines the exact same way: cool, calm, detached. He is truly one of the worst actors I've ever seen. It's too bad there isn't a director around who can tell our (Not So) Great Pretender, "I'm afraid you're just not what we're looking for."
Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.