Americans seem to think that President Obama is generally a nice guy, but not particularly capable. A January Associated Press Poll reported the president’s personal image to be positive with almost 60 percent of people seeing him as very or somewhat likable. Yet, his job approval has ticked down to almost 40 percent. His recent announcement to work outside of Congress, foreign policy floundering and rather embarrassing public appearances (Between the Ferns is just painful to watch) have resulted less in scorn for the president, than a fairly sympathetic embarrassment for the man.
Mr. Obama’s dogged yet inept efforts bring to mind the similar persistent and sympathetic failings of Wile E. Coyote, the lovable cartoon character that continually applied absurdly complex and elaborate plans, without success. Both act with a dignified and implicit acknowledgement of their own genius. There is a common audacity which instills a confidence — later proven to be less than fully justified – that makes the audience like them, even when the ultimate goal of the efforts – eating the Road Runner or the ACA – are unpleasant.
The plans of both are drawn out in elaborate detail and there is a certain initial, common acceptance that this idea seems to make sense. The rocket powered roller skates could – like affordable care – conceivably work as planned, if every single predicate assumption was correct and there were no other external factors that could otherwise influence the brilliance of the plan. But just as the Coyote was most often thwarted by simple physics and gravity, overly elaborate schemes to revise businesses, adapt economics, influence climate, and rearrange social conditions simply cannot overcome physical and personal imperatives by altruistic elegance.
The creator and writers for the cartoons supposedly adhered to some simple but strict rules:
- No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude.
- The Coyote could stop anytime.
- The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
- The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.
A case can be made that the president has been far more harmed by his own failings – “you can keep your plan,” the red line for Syria, “Here’s what happened. … You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character” – than any of the supposed onslaught by his political opponents. With the ACA, the president has been asked innumerably to slow down or stop, yet he continues to apply absurdly complex and elaborate plans. His missteps and foibles diminish his respect at home and abroad, but like the Coyote, he rises up, dusts himself off and sets off on the next scheme — income equality, lowering the oceans – and his supporters never lose the tingle in their legs. You can make all of the allegations of hate and racism you want, but generally Americans feel that the president is well intentioned, but deluded that his brilliance can rectify convoluted problems with even more complicated solutions.
The polls show that Americans don’t hate the Coyote, but we sure don’t think he’ll ever catch any Road Runners.