Politics Usual or Unusual

by Bob Schwartz

Barack Obama
Most presidents, even the ones you love to hate, are idealists. At least at the start. For some, depending on the times, the makeup of Congress, and the skills of the national CEO , the presidency is where dreams go to die. Since the enemies of Obama–and he has bitter enemies in high places—have raised the ghost of Nixon, it is a good time to honestly set perspective.

The best way to measure the historic egregiousness of presidential misperformance is to count the friends who remained even as it was unfolding. There is a point at which that inchoate thing we might call the honor of the country is at stake, rather than just individual transgressions. Lying in office, either about sex or about phantom weapons, is apparently not enough to turn everybody against you. Killing the economy and then handing a near lifeless body to your successor isn’t either. Blowing up the Constitution is.

So what we have at this moment is not Nixonian by any stretch. What we have is the unpretty side of presidential pragmatism, the point at which feeling forced to play the game as it is played, rather than the way you had dreamed it could be played, is on unflattering display. Obama’s no good very bad week has led to a variety of dancing that no one should watch. There is Republican grave dancing, Obama supporter apologist dancing, and administration pretzel dancing. This last is exemplified by the Attorney General distancing himself from a possibly justifiable but absolutely controversial decision to monitor journalists to discover leaks, and at the same time pushing for a media shield law that would help make the particular investigation more difficult, less likely, or even impossible. That is, stop us before we kill again.

This all adds up to something not that spectacular, but for some a little disheartening in its plainness and obviousness. Politics is a life size business. Once in a while, some come along who stand taller, act more forthrightly, speak a little more inspiringly in ways that make us believe in the possible and in ourselves. We must have this because without vision, the people really do perish. Obama seems to be one of those. This week, though, he is stuck in a moment that is more usual, looking more usual. The unusual will be back, or at least it should, but right now, what it is is governing.