How the mythic has fallen

Ben Clarke Political Consultant and Speechwriter
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I remember fondly trekking across downtown Des Moines, Iowa early in January of 2008 to catch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech upon winning the Iowa Caucuses.  I was one of the few who did so without the luxury of snow shoes.

The room itself was electric; so, too, was the media pit where I was standing.  That whole week, you got the impression that even veteran political scribes – like David Broder – were enamored with Obama’s authenticity and rhetorical flair.

Obama owned the room.  “They said this day would never come…”

I saw Obama in New Hampshire days later.  I was travelling with Republicans and Democrats in the media.  There was a collective sense not only that this guy “gets it,” but that this guy has “got it.”

I didn’t vote for Obama, but I really liked him; still do.  And boy is he in trouble.  His presidential approval numbers are just about dead even when averaged nationally: 47% approve, 46% disapprove.  In fairness, every president’s approval numbers drop in their second year in office.

More than anything, you can almost feel the enthusiasm deficit across America.  There is a growing sense that the change that was promised is not the change that has been delivered … that there is a disquieting difference between what Americans are hearing from Washington and what they are FEELING in their day-to-day lives.

This is where rhetoric meets the road.  I watched President Obama’s nationally televised speech on the Gulf oil disaster a few weeks ago.  For the first time – in my opinion – he looked terrified.  I felt going into it that his body language would be more telling than his verbal language, and all visual indicators suggested that this guy was in over his head.  It was palpable.  Even Chris Matthews was using phrases the likes of “Carteresque.”

If you are not concerned right now, you are not paying attention.  I support President Obama’s policies in Afghanistan.  His administration can cite myriad measures of success in recent months, but General McChrystal’s less than diplomatic departure speaks volumes about the reality on the ground.  Things are not going well.  It seems now that failure is more likely to dictate the troop “draw down” than success.

The economy is at best tenuous.  Liberal icon Paul Krugman (I am pretty sure he was one of the bad guys in the Wizard of Oz) said last week: “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression.”

Truth be told, I did not know at that time that we’d had a “second” depression, but the ever insufferable Krugman tells us the years of deflation and instability that followed the Panic of 1873 qualify.

He is of the belief that we must “spend” our way out of it, while many on the right believe we must “conserve” our way out of it.  Either way, we are in for a long and dreary economic tow.

(I would be pretty damn worried were it not for the fact that I recently received rock-solid e-mail confirmation of my win in the “UK National Lottery” online sweepstakes.  Frankly, I was unaware I had entered.  But the Brits never lie.  Word came down this morning.  I am but a few clicks and informal exchanges away from 1,000,000 (GBP) being deposited into my account by way of a West African bank.)

I could not tell you if Obama’s new health care plan is working, but I do know that 50 percent of Americans still disapprove of it.  The state of affairs with regard to immigration in America is calamitous; education not much better.  The Gulf of Mexico is on course to be America’s very own Dead Sea.  To top it all off, thanks to Obama’s poor play, the United States was ousted early at the World Cup.

My how the mythic has fallen.

This is not all Obama’s fault, mind you.  But it is his problem.  He can’t communicate the solution; he needs to demonstrate it.

He has already won half the battle.  He sold the American people on “change they can believe in.”  Unfortunately for him, they want it right now.

This piece originally ran in the Greenfield Recorder (Mass.). The writer can be reached at benclarkeopinion@gmail.com