The scripted presidency

Writing in the Washington Post, David Ignatius portrays the Obama White House in a way not often seen in major media. Basically, we have someone as president who hates spontaneity, doesn't like surprises, and seems disengaged on some of the major issues facing the country.

It isn't just the teleprompter issue, although Ignatius points out that Obama does indeed lean heavily on pre-packaged responses to questions. Rather it is the sense that the president refuses to get into the muck and jumble of politics in order to impose his will.

What accounts for this failing? Obama talked during the 2008 campaign about how he wanted to break from the politics of division. But 18 months on, I begin to wonder if it's politics itself that he doesn't like -- the messy process of wheeling and dealing, of making lowdown compromises for high-minded goals.

A memorable Obama moment came when he was a young senator listening to a consummate politician, Joe Biden, ramble on as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Shoot. Me. Now," wrote Obama to one of his aides.

A man who knows Obama well speculated a few months ago that this president isn't in love with the White House. The Post had run an article saying that with his dry intellect, Obama would be happier on the Supreme Court than in the Oval Office. The insider nodded his head. "That's true," he said.

This White House famously doesn't like surprises. The president gives few news conferences, and the ones he does hold are often wooden events, with little of the spontaneity and human theater that allow the country to get to know its leader. Obama calls on a pre-selected list of reporters; his answers are overlong and taxonomic. He is always smart and well prepared but rarely personal. Even as he was taking the country deeper into war in Afghanistan in December, his call to arms was bloodless.

This president doesn't do many unscripted interviews, either. The White House may grant one when it wants to roll out a prepackaged policy or theme. But Obama avoids open-ended sessions that might be "fishing expeditions," aimed at catching him in a mistake or on a subject outside the talking points. 

Ed Lasky adds:

A leader can think on his feet, adapt to changes in the environment - not constantly vote present or allow others to take over the agenda (such as letting others write the stimulus bill, ObamaCare, etc). He is just lazy and afraid to be put on the spot (as in press conferences).

After the obligatory and hackneyed compliment regarding Obama's intelligence, Ignatius and someone whose comments he features, eviscerate the compliment by basically noting that Obama's questions show him, in essence, as someone just reading a script-or teleprompter. Obama is scared of being forced to think on his feet because he does not know the answers to reporters' questions. But give him a teleprompter....


And they criticized Reagan for being an actor.

Ignatius believes the coming mid term debacle by the Democrats will either force Obama to change and start mixing it up in the trenches, or lead to a failed presidency. I think the latter option is more likely. Obama's aloofness, his arrogance, and his obvious distaste for involving himself in the cut and slash kind of politics that will be necessary with a strengthened and confident opposition, will lead to him becoming less and less relevant through 2011 and into 2012. It is not likely to result in primary opposition for him. But he will lead a dispirited party into the 2012 elections where the GOP candidate will have a real shot at unseating him.