Rumors of Barack Obama’s brilliance appear to have been greatly exaggerated. As for the legendary eloquence I saw no signs of it; so many others testify to it I have to concede it’s there.
His speech at the Democratic National Convention should be noted for its dishonesty, a paean to unity from the future president of Black Lives Matter rioting and deliberate ethnic “transformation”. As it is, no one seems to remember a word of it, especially those who praise its brilliance.
At this stage we’re fortunate he’s a bit of a fraud–a higher energy Obama would be truly dangerous. As it is he seems to have lapsed quickly into irrelevance after having had a successful two-term presidency, like George W. Bush before him. Both got the big initiatives they wanted; both failed to produce “comprehensive immigration reform” against the gale force headwinds of popular rejection. Aside from whether or not they were good for the country, they were good for their respective factional alliances.
If Bush proved knowledge and intelligence weren’t necessary for a successful administration Obama proved engagement wasn’t necessary either. Barack Obama behaved as if he was deigning to lead an unworthy nation–a nation that declared him worthy just for showing up. I suspect those are related somehow. It’s almost as if Obama disdains the nation because he knows better. He occasionally showed the good sense to tamp down the groupie-like expectations of his Democratic fan base.
But like Bush it’s remarkable how little influence he seems to have after leaving office. American presidents tend to fade out quickly once we’re done with them; still, Obama’s relative youth, activist origins and the phenomenon around him were supposed to make him different. But a post-presidency career doesn’t run itself for the most part like the executive office. One has to be creative. After telling his personal story–which really isn’t that interesting after all–and repeating progressive platitudes, the man doesn’t have much to say.
Even leftists sometimes wondered if he wasn’t something of a low energy guy. Gawker in 2011:
Barack Obama is at the nadir of his political popularity and effectiveness. He has been maneuvered into an economic corner of 9%-plus unemployment by a relentlessly nihilistic Congress. His achievements—killing bin Laden, saving the auto industry at negligible cost—are written off as flukes. Plus all this 9/11 anniversary stuff! We hear the New York Times is looking into whether it’s all starting to get to him—like, clinically.
We’re told by a source inside the Times that the paper is preparing a story arguing that Obama no longer finds joy in the political back-and-forth, has seemed increasingly listless to associates, and is generally exhibiting the litany of signs that late-night cable commercials will tell you add up to depression. Or maybe Low T.
Either way, the investigation was described to us as taking seriously the notion that Obama may be suffering from a depressive episode. Of course, absent a telltale Wellbutrin prescription or testimony from the man himself, it’s really impossible to achieve a reliable diagnosis. And a story like “Obama Appears to Suffer From Depression” can be easily downgraded to “Political Travails Begin to Take Personal Toll on Obama.” So the story in question, if it ever comes out, may not end up supporting the depression thesis. But rest assured: There are people at the Times who, based on the paper’s reporting, believe Obama is depressed—the kind of depression where, if he weren’t the president of the United States, he wouldn’t be getting out of bed in the morning.
The Democrats have a Barack Obama problem: there is not much there:
Of course, before any serious endorsement conversation can commence, Obama has to finish his book (between rounds of golf and raising millions for his foundation). The writing has been going more slowly than he’d expected, and according to several people who have spoken with him, the 44th president is feeling competitive with his wife, whose own book, Becoming, was the biggest release of 2018 and is on track to be the best-selling memoir in history.
This all suggests Obama has no control over Michelle Obama’s camp.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, like others in this story, these sources note he’ll occasionally point out in conversation that he’s writing this book himself, while Michelle used a ghostwriter. He’s also trying to balance the historical and political needs of a project that will be up to his standards as a writer, and not 1,000 pages long. Obama’s research process has been intense and convoluted, and it’s still very much ongoing, from the legal pads he had shipped to Marlon Brando’s old island in French Polynesia, where he spent a month in March 2017, to the interviews that aides have been conducting with former members of his administration to jog and build out memories.
“Remind me what happened again?” Pity the editors. Remarkable that this man sold as a great communicator actually tends toward reticence. The words have to be dragged out of him.
As with Becoming, this book will have more than a standard release. Aides expect Obama to go on tour, with a rush of interviews in which he’ll be expected to talk not just about what he’s written, but about Trump and whatever political news is unfolding that day. When that conversation has come up internally, according to people involved in the discussions, he often says simply, “I can handle it.”