No Gold Medals for Obama

When I was teaching at Indiana University in the early 1970s, one of the undergraduates at the university was Mark Spitz, an NCAA champion swimmer who went on to win seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  Spitz was a legendary athlete known for his endless hours of training and practice in the service of a clear goal.

With his remarkable work ethic, Mark Spitz would make an excellent role model for anyone, but especially for the present occupant of the White House.  Spitz's success as an athlete did not come easily, nor it did not come about overnight.  It was the result of tens of thousands of hours of strenuous training guided by a long-term plan.

By contrast, President Obama does not seem to have a credible plan, and even if he did, he seems incapable of working patiently toward a goal.  Half the time, it seems, the President is on the golf course, shooting hoops with his buddies on the White House court, or vacationing on Martha's Vineyard with billionaires.  When he is not horsing around, Obama is out campaigning.  That doesn't leave much time for shepherding the country through one of the worst economic periods in history.

Even when he is not golfing or making speeches, the president does not seem to be making much of an effort.  Unlike Mark Spitz, Obama is neither persistent nor energetic.  Every athlete knows that in times of adversity, one must work through the pain.  But when Obama runs up against adversity, he simply changes course.

From the beginning, the administration's goals have been unclear.  Or, more precisely, the administration has no goal other than power.  In fact, I do not believe that this president has any principles other than a childish and naïve faith in socialism.  More important than any ideological commitment -- and the key to understanding this president -- is Obama's arrogant self-regard.  What distinguishes Obama from all recent presidents, even Bill Clinton, is his haughty egotism.  This is a president who is driven by narcissistic conceit unhinged from all reality.

That conceit is expressed in Obama's relations with Congress and with the public at large.  Obama is not one who feels he must work with Congress, and certainly not with the opposition.  He believes that he has the right to govern by dictate.  It is revealing that Congress has paid so little attention to Obama's annual budgets: his FY2012 budget was DOA.  And, remarkably, when Congress brushed aside his latest jobs plan, Obama made no effort to obtain its passage.  It's as if he is simply going through the motions of governing rather than making a sustained effort.

Perhaps that's because the president is more concerned about re-election than about the well-being of the country.  In the midst of a lingering economic crisis, this president has shown very little empathy for the 30 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed, or out of the job market altogether.  As millions of Americans struggle to survive, Obama does nothing on the jobs front.  What he has done is deliver grandiose, self-admiring speeches designed to provide political cover for his re-election effort.  This is not the sign of a determined, self-sacrificing leader; it is the sign of a seriously deluded narcissist who thinks he can talk his way out of any difficulty.

It's no wonder that Obama's economic plan is not working -- there was never a plan to begin with.  Nor has there been persistence.  From week to week, the White House announces a new program on the economy, usually accompanied by a "major television address" that no one any longer takes the time to watch.  So it was with the "small business initiative" of 2010 (the "Small Business Jobs Act"), a purported effort to jump-start job-creation by small businesses that went nowhere.  Even the president seemed to have forgotten about it within a week.  So it has been with the American Jobs Act, the president's $441-billion jobs bill that could not muster a single Democratic sponsor in the Senate.

This vacillation is what one would expect from an administration whose policies are driven by the self-regard of a deluded egotist.  The fact is that none of Obama's efforts -- not green jobs, not ObamaCare, not stimulus one or stimulus two, not the American Jobs Act, or anything else the president has come up with -- has benefited the nation as a whole.  This is because not a single one of these efforts was ever intended to benefit the country -- they were crafted to reward selected constituencies, whether these be billionaire investors in green energy or public-service employee unions. There was never any intention of making life better for all Americans -- only for the small coterie of special interests critical to the re-election effort.

But even if Obama's major initiatives had been designed to benefit the country as a whole, they would not have succeeded.  They would fail because the president lacks the political courage to defend them when they prove unpopular.  They would fail because he lacks principles and resolve.

This president has never demonstrated a willingness to work patiently toward a goal.  One day he speaks of putting Social Security and Medicare on a "sound financial footing."  The next day, after he calculates the political cost, he excludes all talk of entitlement reform from budget negotiations.  When it was expedient to do so, the president declared his intention to shut down the Guantanamo prison within weeks of taking office.  When it became politically difficult to do so, he conveniently forgot his promise.

It may be fortunate, of course, that Obama does lack courage and persistence.  If he had done a better job of promoting green energy, the country would be even worse off.  As it is, Obama is intent on leading the country in the wrong direction -- he is just not entirely adept at doing so.  With only half an effort, he has done great damage to the economy and to the social fabric of the nation.  Had he been a more able leader, he would have done a lot more harm.

What if Obama had worked day and night, with the determination and resolve of a Mark Spitz?  He might have succeeded in the "radical transformation" of America that he has often cited as his goal.  This transformation is nothing less than the creation of a socialist state with centralized control and regulation of the entire economy.

So far, Obama has succeeded only in a partial transformation.  We can be thankful that he has not been as effective as he might have been, but we should be fearful of what will happen if he gets four more years.  Even a vacillating and weak-willed leader can do a lot of damage, given enough time.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American culture, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).