The second most tiresome cliché of the season (yes, right after all those exhortations to "Man up
!'') holds that even in defeat, Barack Obama "just doesn't get it."
"Obama Doesn't Get It
,'' Victor Davis Hanson wrote on National Review Online. "Obama Doesn't Get It
,'' John Gibson argued on Fox News Radio. "President Obama still doesn't get it
,'' opened an editorial in the Washington Times. In case you're curious about Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's take on Obama's reaction to his reduced political circumstances, it, too, was that "Obama Doesn't Get It
His answer, I admit, sounded a lot like a yes: "Over the last two years, we've made a series of tough decisions but decisions that were right in moving the country forward and not slipping into a second Great Depression. With all that stuff coming at folks fast and furious . . . I think people started looking at all this and it felt as though government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to. The reason is that it was an emergency. Maybe people thought it was an agenda, rather than a response to an emergency. When I won election in 2008, people were excited about the prospect of changing how things got done. We were in such a hurry to get things done, we didn't think about how things got done.''
OK, so even presidents babble when they're in shock. Which may explain why Obama has sounded like our previous POTUS on a couple of recent occasions, praising the "heckuva job" Larry Summers did and bemoaning the "shellacking'' Democrats took on Tuesday. (When the GOP lost control of the House four years ago, Bush similarly called it a "thumping
.") Obama's critics, however, were more drawn to his use of the uptown word "relitigate.''
"We'd be misreading the election if we thought the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years,'' he told reporters. "Who the *&%$ says relitigate
?" responded a commenter on Newser
. "Real people 'go over,' 'rehash,' 'fight over' things, but they don't relitigate them. He will never connect with the average Joe.''
Correct or not, that impression must have something to do with the "it'' that the only child of a single mom raised by working-class grandparents supposedly doesn't get. And surely some of the perceived disconnect is a function of the presidential coolness that a sneering piece
in the Daily Mail got at this way: "Obama's fundamental personality problem is that he does not ring America's bells. . . . In the United States more than any other country on earth, the nation's leader needs to be able to simulate sentiment; to look as if he might drop a tear as Old Glory rises up the flagpole and the National Anthem is played.''
An even more obvious problem is that there's not exactly sea-to-shining-sea consensus on just what it is that Obama is supposed to get -- beyond, as he repeatedly said Wednesday, prioritizing jobs, jobs, and jobs. "There is no doubt that people's number one concern is the economy,'' he said. "They understand that I'm the president of the United States and it's my responsibility. . . . So I've got to take direct responsibility that we have not made enough progress that we needed to make."
For conservatives, "it'' means not relitigating but relinquishing everything Democrats on the Hill have accomplished since Obama took office, starting with the health care reform legislation that Republicans were fixated on Wednesday -- curiously so for folks who claim to be focused like a laser on jobs.
When David Gergen asked "Does he get it
?" in a recent piece for CNN, the "it" he was referring to was the president's urgent need to start governing from the center.
But the "it'' in Joan Walsh's Salon piece, "Obama Just Doesn't Get I
t," two months ago was based on the premise that he's been stuck in the center for quite some time, and needs to exit left; why, Walsh asked, was he focusing on debts and the deficit while "ignoring the pesky left, with its old culture-war grudges and its subversive demand for greater economic fairness. I've heard some smart folks speculate that the White House may even welcome a Republican takeover, the better to 'let Obama be Obama,' and continue to play out his fantasy of being a Democratic Ronald Reagan, creating a generation of what he used to call 'Obamacans' and realigning politics for his lifetime. If anyone in the White House still believes that, they are delusional. If Republicans win back the House, they will tie up the president in subpoenas and bogus investigations faster than you can say Darrell Issa.'' Whom I think I caught a glimpse of on MSNBC on Wednesday, talking about how much he's looking forward to investigating -- er, working with the president.
My own hope, in any case, is that Obama won't spend too much time trying to decide which "it" to get, because I agree with the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman, who noted that Reagan was derided as out of touch in 1982 -- until, that is, the economy rebounded and all was forgiven. "Whether Obama manages to win re-election has little to do with how well he shows he 'gets it
,' " Chapman wrote. And everything to do with whether his fellow Americans get jobs.