From Obama, Presidential Prose
Mario Cuomo once observed that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. That truth was on display at tonight’s prime-time press conference, in which a president renowned for his soaring rhetoric found himself instead mired in the prosaic. He instructed Americans to wash their hands, cover their mouths when they cough and keep their sick kids home from school. That assignment accomplished, President Obama moved on to the auto companies, asserting that “GM has a lot of good product there,” although, as he acknowledged toward the close of the hour, “I’m not an auto engineer. I don’t know how to create an affordable, well-designed, plug-in hybrid.”
Not exactly "we are the change that we seek” lyricism.
Running for president is about sketching a vision; being president is about executing -- not just the plans you and your advisers had in mind but, as George W. Bush learned the hard way, with Hurricane Katrina, also the tasks that fate throws your way. The past few weeks have reminded me of the old Monty Python line “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Floods in Fargo, piracy off the Somali coast, swine -- sorry, H1N1 -- flu; nobody prepared position papers on these during the campaign. Nor on the Spanish Inquisition, for that matter.
As to the items that were part of the campaign -- well, prosaic politics dictates a certain realism there as well. So Candidate Obama was happy to say that he supported the Freedom of Choice Act, to guarantee a federal right to abortion; President Obama was blunt about where that proposal stands: “Not my highest legislative priority.”
And as to his real priorities, there, too, the president displayed a certain -- and, to some extent, self-serving -- world-weariness as his 100th day drew to a close. Asked what he had found humbling about the job, Obama offered, “...There are a lot of different power centers. And so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line.” Something he probably knew before, back in the good old poetry days.
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