Barack Obama’s dys­func­tional Wash­ing­ton

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN

Barack Obama fell in love with the sound of his voice at an early age. It’s the love that dares shout its name, and will not die even when ev­ery­body else has quit lis­ten­ing. The pres­i­dent trav­eled this week to Hollywood, the re­li­able re­fu­el­ing stop for Demo­cratic can­di­dates, and preached to show-biz friends who paid up to $65,000 each for sup­per and had to eat it in a tent in the back­yard. Ev­ery­body who was anybody was there, Jef­frey Katzenberg, Tom Roth­man, James Brolin. Bar­bra Streisand, no doubt hop­ing Bubba might drop by un­ex­pect­edly, was there, too.

The pres­i­dent didn’t have to pay for a plate of beans and corn­bread, so he re­turned the gift with his voice. Wash­ing­ton, he said, isn’t work­ing be­cause it’s “dys­func­tional” and de­spite ev­ery­thing he has done “there’s still dis­quiet around the coun­try.” (Jimmy Carter called it “malaise.”)

Mr. Obama, like Mr. Jimmy, railed about dis­quiet and dys­func­tion on the Po­tomac, for­get­ting that he lives at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue NW, which is well within the District of Columbia and the fount of the bad stuff. The pres­i­dent is the very point of Wash­ing­ton. If Wash­ing­ton isn’t work­ing, maybe it has some­thing to do with what he brought to town.

But no, it’s not him. The dis­quiet, “an anx­i­ety and a sense of frus­tra­tion,” he said, “af­flicts the body politic de­spite “a list of ac­com­plish­ments.” It’s ev­ery­body else’s fault. It al­ways is. He warned of a “self-ful­fill­ing prophecy” in the midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions, where “peo­ple who have the most at stake in a govern­ment that works, opt out of the sys­tem, and those who don’t be­lieve govern­ment can do any­thing, are em­pow­ered. Grid­lock reigns, and we’ve got this down­ward spi­ral of even more cyn­i­cism, and more dys­func­tion. And we have to break out of that cy­cle, and that’s what this elec­tion is all about.” So break out your check­books, and buy some more dys­func­tion.

The pres­i­dent has said he doesn’t ac­tu­ally think very much of Abra­ham Lin­coln’s fa­mous de­scrip­tion of Amer­ica as “the ex­cep­tional na­tion,” and likened Lin­coln’s fool­ish no­tion to some­thing ev­ery­body — even Bri­tain and Greece — thinks about their coun­try. But he re­as­sured the pretty peo­ple that he doesn’t buy the idea that Amer­ica is on a “down­ward tra­jec­tory,” and “by ev­ery in­di­ca­tor we are bet­ter po­si­tioned than any coun­try on earth to suc­ceed in this knowl­edge econ­omy in the 21st cen­tury.” This sounds like his speech­writer found an old copy of re­marks from Ron­ald Rea­gan’s “Morn­ing in Amer­ica” cam­paign, but Mr. Obama quickly cut to the point of his trib­ute to all he has done, de­spite ev­ery­thing the op­po­si­tion does to spoil ev­ery oc­ca­sion.

“What is ab­so­lutely true is that if we don’t make good choices, we could de­cline, and we’re not go­ing to make good choices un­less we break out of this cy­cle, in which dys­func­tion breeds cyn­i­cism, and we have to break out of it, and that hap­pens dur­ing the midterms.”

This was a week when the pres­i­dent tried to man­u­fac­ture dis­trac­tion and en­thu­si­asm si­mul­ta­ne­ously, dif­fi­cult even for the world’s great­est or­a­tor. He tried to dis­tract at­ten­tion from the sins and omis­sions of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, to get peo­ple talk­ing about death by ap­proach­ing weather in­stead of death in Beng­hazi, or the man­i­fold abuses of the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. He stopped in Ar­kan­sas en route to Cal­i­for­nia to be pho­tographed stand­ing tall amid the ru­ins of a town de­stroyed by a tor­nado, just two days af­ter the re­lease of a new govern­ment re­port with warmed-over pre­dic­tions of deadly weather He was met by skep­tics and sus­pi­cion.

“A lot of peo­ple [here] are claim­ing it’s neg­a­tive that he’s com­ing here,” a man sur­rounded by the rub­ble of what used to be the town of Vilo­nia told the Ar­kan­sas Demo­crat Gazette. Re­mem­ber­ing his Southern man­ners, he added: “but I think it’s im­por­tant.”

When the term “global warm­ing” didn’t work, the White House tried “cli­mate change,” and that didn’t work, ei­ther. Now Mr. Obama wants ev­ery­one to call it “cli­mate dis­rup­tion” (which is what hap­pens to the pic­nic at the fifth-Sun­day meet­ing at the lit­tle coun­try church). He warned that “cli­mate dis­rup­tion” is not in the fu­ture, it’s now. But ex­cept for the tor­nado in Vilo­nia, his stage prop this week, epic dis­as­ter is still in the fu­ture — just an­other gate­way claim. Gate­way claims, as Ar­kan­sas nov­el­ist Charles Por­tis ob­served in “Dog of the South,” only mean that “we’re not there yet.”

That’s the story of Barack Obama’s prom­ise of hope and change. We’re not there yet, but we’re as close as we’ll ever be. Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.


Sen. Mark Pryor and Pres­i­dent Obama tour the ru­ins of Vilo­nia, Ark.

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