By Dave Andrusko
Four or five years ago, if asked, I would have said that I do not believe President Obama is an open book or, put more accurately, not utterly predictable and not necessarily in love with the sound of his own voice and his own invincible sense of moral superiority. Even then I was willing to hope his hubris might be tempered by a touch of humility.
Not anymore. If you watched the “60 minutes” interview with Steve Kroft Sunday, you realize even those who have most pandered to this most pandered-to president (like Kroft) simply find what Mr. Obama says impossible to square with the world around us.
The disconnect is startling.
Then, nudged ahead by a piece in The Hill, I read the first part of a discussion Mr. Obama had last month while he was in Iowa with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson. The first part is up on the webpage of the New York Review of Books [www2.nybooks.com/articles/s3/2015/nov/05/president-obama-marilynne-robinson-conversation.html]. The second part, we’re told, will be in the magazine’s next issue.
As The Hill put it, “Obama has increasingly turned to unorthodox formats for media interviews in the final stretch of his presidency.” Translated that means he wants to ask questions, rather than answer them, and in the process preen.
In this instance, he essentially interviewed Robinson, fishing for the right response to his leading questions so he could let us know how aggrieved he is and unfair American politics is to the noblest amongst us. (Hint: that would be him.)
The quote that has gotten the most traction had to do with his customary put down of conservation Christians. (I will offer a slightly longer quote for context.)
The President: But you’ve struggled with the fact that here in the United States, sometimes Christian interpretation seems to posit an “us versus them,” and those are sometimes the loudest voices. But sometimes I think you also get frustrated with kind of the wishy-washy, more liberal versions where anything goes.
The President: How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?
Think about that for a few minutes. The President’s lack of respect for Republicans extends back to his first meetings, the message of which was to them: I won, you lost.
Flush with his own power, he offered a handful of gullible House Democrats bogus assurances to secure the final few votes for Obamacare, a transparently political move that allowed him to secure his “signature” domestic achievement without a single Republican vote.
Suspicious of “them” ? I would argue there hasn’t been such an “us versus them” president since Richard Nixon.
But it’s the remarks he made before that help us understand where he’s headed and how he arrived there. (And I do not mean telling us in 2008, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Or after securing his party’s nomination for President, modestly suggesting that ”this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”)
Robinson feeds Obama’s conviction that there are people for whom there exists a “sinister other.” She’s referring to those she says “who never accept the argument that is made for a position that they don’t agree with.”
The President: Well, now there’s been that strain in our democracy and in American politics for a long time. And it pops up every so often. I think the argument right now would be that because people are feeling the stresses of globalization and rapid change, and we went through one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression, and the political system seems gridlocked, that people may be particularly receptive to that brand of politics.
(Not surprisingly, it never dawns on the president that he might be one of the most receptive.)
Never once in the conversation does Obama suggest that, if this is true, he might share some of the responsibility. In fact, just the opposite:
I’m always trying to push a little more optimism. Sometimes you get—I think you get discouraged by it, and I tell you, well, we go through these moments.
To which Robinson, whom Obama awarded the 2012 National Humanities Medal, dutifully responds:
But when you say that to me, I say to you, you’re a better person than I am.
Can we avoid the obvious conclusion? That Obama might, just might, believe he’s a better person than any of us, surely all of us who believe, for example, in the sanctity of unborn human life?
There are tons of jaw-dropping remarks from the president that are outside our single issue purview. They are useful as a way of understanding our 44th president.
I would strongly suggest you read the exchange at nybooks.com.