When Words Fail
Most theories for why the president came unglued like a papier-mache doll in a steam bath during his press conference this week center on the fact that he can't stand having his liberal bona fides questioned.
There are other theories, of course. He was just pretending to be mad so he could seem more moderate as he preps his 2012 bid for re-election. He hates giving Republicans what they want. Obama's "political immaturity," as
All of these theories are possible, and none of them are mutually exclusive. But there's one more possible reason for his dyspepsia. This week Obama lost his argument with
It's largely forgotten now, but during their lengthy primary battle, the two committed liberals' greatest disagreement wasn't over policy or their shared disdain for
For example, in a
Pshaw, responded Hillary, the president is really a "chief executive officer" who must be "able to manage and run the bureaucracy."
This disagreement was symbolized by their respective role models. Obama likened himself to
The debate played itself out by proxy in liberal magazines and in snippets of speeches and short outbursts on the stump, with most liberals siding with Obama over Clinton. Some even suggested she was a racist -- or at least race-baiting -- for daring to suggest that all he offered was the ability to give a good speech.
But even some of Obama's biggest fans admitted that his devotion to the magical power of words stemmed from the fact that he had little else going for him. "
Fast-forward to this week. Obama's undisciplined diatribe against the "purists" in his own party who oppose compromise amounted to an abject admission that Hillary was right all along.
"Measuring success" by the no-compromise standard, Obama declared, means "we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are." But, he suggested, liberals will make little progress.
Obama then went on a stem-winder about how "this is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The
All true. And the Democrats are being foolishly purist, as we saw Thursday when House Democrats voted to reject the tax compromise.
But denouncing purists and accepting that significant swaths of America aren't going to be persuaded by your rhetoric is an admission that the Obama vision of the presidency either doesn't work or that Obama isn't up to the job of making it work.
Indeed, even on health-care reform, his signature accomplishment, Obama failed to mobilize and inspire the American people to his side. He got that passed with LBJ-like legislative skullduggery and sleight of hand, not "yes we can!" rhetoric.
Admitting you're wrong is part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. At least it certainly looked painful watching it on TV.
Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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When Words Fail | Politics
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