Tuesday, February 10, 2009
President Obama continues his upgraded, broadband, overclocked, reboot of the Clinton presidency. The 2.d'oh! revolution continues. No president in history degraded the White House and the position of president quite as effectively as Bill Clinton. I had this debate with a colleague just this week. I asked what she thought of an older man in a position of great power who used that power to have sex with a young woman barely a few years older than his daughter. Well, in that decontextualized way you can imagine what she said about the sexist and degrading behavior of such a man. Then I mentioned Clinton. Her defense: Well, she came onto him. Me: So if one of my students comes onto me that makes it ok? Well, no. But you people are always so judgemental. It was a private act! That is the line I always wait for, because it offers me my best chance to co-opt the progressive "if the People lead, the Leaders will" follow attitude of the Left: The Oval Office is not a private office. It's the office of the people, la gente (it's very effective to throw a few highly accented Spanish phrases into the mix, even if you grew up speaking English first and have no accent).
I have about a 50% success rate with that basic fact. My colleague is a decent women who simply cannot let go of her faith in the Democratic party, but when she realized this fact she did admit that there was something destructive and degrading about what President Clinton did. The other half of President Clinton's story is that he got away with it. In doing both he degraded the office in a way it never had been. Now President Obama has not done anything like that, and probably won't but he has broken a long standing tradition of presidents and started blaming the previous President. In his press conference yesterday he got a little cranky (missed nap time?) and reminded his audience that he inherited this economy.
Now this is shameful and degrading on so many levels. First, it infers that the economy is only the fault of Bush and republicans, a childish and dishonest look at how we got here. But there is a much deeper and disturbing character flaw suggested by such a statement. It almost seems easier to "understand" Clinton's failure because it is such an old and common one for men. When an adult male starts whining and blaming other people, we should have an instinctive revulsion to such behavior. It is not mature, and it is certainly not what great leaders do. Did Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or Churchill ever do anything even close?! Clinton at least waited a few years before foisting his indignity on the office of President. Obama couldn't wait a few weeks.
Have no illusions here. This is a very serious issue. President Bush had every opportunity to blame shift. After all, it was the Clinton administration who failed to act about terrorism. But Bush never even came close to blaming Clinton. Bush could have blamed the democrats for the economy, but no (maybe he should have tried to be a little more vocal here). Bush never even called out the democrats for their irresponsible, Al-Jazeera evening newsbite comments like, "The War is Lost" (Harry Reid before the surge he voted for had been implemented). Even though those irresponsible statements by democrats functioned as "one for the Gipper" moments in terrorists camps Bush still never called out or blamed his democratic colleagues. Yet here we have the leader of America and the free world almost whining as he suddenly realizes maybe I don't want to play ball with the big kids after all. They don't put the ball on a tee after I couldn't hit it!
This is very painful to watch. And write. While disagreeing with President Obama, I do not want to see him fail or be mocked. Growing up in a rough and lower class world, my first instinct is to mock Obama a whole lot more than I have done here. But something restrains me and even nags at me about the things I have already written. You know what that is? The dignity and respect surrounding the Office of President of the United States. But president Obama, like Clinton before him, has done great damage to the nobility and honor of the office. I would still die for President Obama, but it would now be only the "President" and not "Obama" I would die for. He has degraded the office of President in a way no president before him has ever done. No, he didn't sound like a whiny child, but it doesn't matter. No president has ever played that blame game, because it is undignified and not worthy of the office. Presidents don't behave like that. Great Leaders don't behave like that. Children and rank immature, partisans behave like that. Bloggers and journalists can behave like that. But presidents NEVER behave like that. Or at least they never have before. You have sullied and tarnished the office, Mr. President. Please stop.