★ Roles and Responsibilities

On October 2, 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate hit a twenty-six year high at 9.8%.  Real unemployment is somewhere closer to 17%, and the country has now been hemorrhaging jobs for twenty-one consecutive months.  Despite President Obama’s reassurances and Vice President Biden’s insistence that the stimulus package passed earlier this year is working “beyond [his] wildest dreams,” it is obvious that the White House’s plan has gone horribly awry.  Not that such a development should surprise anyone – after all, did you really expect a novice politician with two years experience as a Senator and no legislative victories when he announced his candidacy could possibly enter office ready to govern? But what is surprising is the President’s staunch refusal to recognize the realities before him, and his insistence on continuing to govern as a celebrity in chief.

When you’re in a state of panic, you go with what you know, and what President Obama knows is television.  Your economic plan is failing miserably? Go on TV! “Your” health care package has stalled in Congress? Go on TV!  You’ve proved negligent to the war that you promised to wage with honor during the campaign? Go on TV! And when all else fails, when your credibility is shot and people are getting sick of seeing you on TV, that’s when you do something guaranteed to get you on as many TVs as possible: go overseas for an elaborate shindig featuring Oprah!

I don’t begrudge the President for wanting to see the Olympics in his home city of Chicago.  As a former resident of the Chicago suburbs, I myself would have been thrilled to have the Games come to the Windy City.  However, I am stunned that the President made securing the Olympics one of his top foreign relations priorities.  As we reach a critical turning point in the War in Afghanistan, Obama agreed to speak with General Stanley McChrystal, head of the operation, for only the fourth time (third in the last week) at the last minute before returning to the States from his meeting with the International Olympic Committee.  That’s right: the American General in charge of successfully completing our mission in Afghanistan is merely an afterthought to this President, to be addressed only after the crucial “Get Obama On As Many Screens As Possible” mission has been completed.

The danger is that in this particular instance is that not only is Obama self-indulgently engaging a body that he has no business in front of for a reason entirely disconnected from the responsibilities of his office, but also that he’s doing it in such a way as to disrespect and demean his military commanders and neglect his real duties as president.  There is a very real possibility that by showering his attention upon the Olympic Committee instead of addressing his commanders’ urgent needs, the President is compromising our nation’s security. He is so wrapped up in his own celebrity that he is neglecting the duties he must fulfill to keep his people safe.  And he is showing no signs of stopping.

Crises are piling up, but the President is adamant in his refusal to address them in any substantial way.  Instead of going behind closed doors and hammering out policy, he’s trying to move the country through the power of rhetoric alone.  The problem is that great rhetoric repeated ad nauseam without any substance behind it eventually mutates into empty rhetoric, at which point the listeners tune out and the speaker is left looking like a blathering fool.  And if the speaker has gotten to that point, he’s not likely to realize the need to change what he’s doing until it’s far too late.

The presidency is not merely a role to be played.  It is a responsibility, and one too great to be borne by preoccupied with their own celebrity.  Obama would do well to realize this, or he’ll quickly find himself in a new role – that of ex-president.