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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/6/11

"Helpless President Lit" - The Latest Trend in Political Tragedy

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from the Huffington Post


Call it "Helpless President Lit." A recent Ezra Klein column is the latest in a growing genre which celebrates our Commander-in-Chief, not as a powerful leader, but as a perennial victim. It portrays him as someone who's powerless over other people's actions, and sometimes even over his own. In this genre the President is forever at the whim of forces beyond his control, even when he has a supermajority in the Senate and a strong majority in the House.

Helpless President Lit is a form of melodrama. It's like an old-fashioned cliffhanger with the President replacing Little Nell, that noble young creature who's forever being tied to a train track or suspended over a gorge by some dastardly villain. Except the country's about to get hurt, not him - and nobody's coming to the rescue.

There'd be no point discussing this backward-looking and speculative genre if it didn't encourage the President and his supporters to continue on such a destructive course of action. I agree with Klein and other critics who say we focus too much attention on the Presidency. But this discussion affects our thinking and behavior at all levels of political engagement.

The only thing more destructive than expecting too much out of our leaders - or ourselves - is expecting too little.

The Rules of the Genre

There are strict conventions in "Helpless President Lit." Its authors must characterize the President's progressive critics as naive. They must say his detractors are expecting more than any President can deliver. The President must be portrayed as a victim of circumstance, powerless in the face of Republican intransigence.

This calls for the frequent use of code words like "realistic," designed to persuade the reader that its plausible to describe the most powerful executive in the world as a helpless creature of our political climate, rather than someone with the platform and the power to reshape it.

Forget all that talk about a "post-imperial Presidency." To them it's a post-Presidential Presidency. Can you imagine George W. Bush's supporters talking this way?

Once the President's helplessness has been attested to, attention is then directed toward his dissatisfied progressive constituents. The tone that's employed may vary from witheringly critical to mildly and politely condescending.

With each new work of "weak President lit," straw men tremble in fear. But real criticisms, most of which are clear-eyed and practical - and yes, realistic - go unheard. And a Democratic President is encouraged by his enablers to continue down a destructive - and self-destructive - path.

"... shadows on our eyes leave us helpless, helpless, helpless."

Klein's piece is called "What Could Obama Have Done?" The answer seems to be nothing - except possibly to be a little less awesome.

Klein writes:

"I've never been able to come up with a realistic scenario in which a lot more got done, the economy is in much better shape, and the president is dramatically more popular ..."

"Indeed, if you had taken me aside in 2008 and sketched out the first three years of Obama's presidency, I would have thought you were being overoptimistic: an $800 billion stimulus package -- recall that people were only talking in the $200-$300 billion range back then -- followed by near-universal health-care reform, followed by financial regulation ... (don't ask don't tell, Bin Laden, Gaddafi, etc) ... There was no way. And yet all that did get done."

"But the administration hasn't able to get unemployment under control -- perhaps it couldn't have gotten unemployment under control -- and so all of that has not been nearly enough."

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Richard (RJ) Eskow is a former executive with experience in health care, benefits, and risk management, finance, and information technology. Richard worked for AIG and other insurance, risk management, and financial organizations. He was also a (more...)
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