Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Has Obama Lost His Swing?

You can always count on Thomas Friedman for a shallow analogy and a stale thought. Today he has outdone himself (my emphasis):
Obama is smart, decent and tough, with exactly the right instincts about where the country needs to go. He has accomplished a lot more than he’s gotten credit for — with an opposition dedicated to making him fail. But lately he is seriously off his game. He’s not Jimmy Carter. He’s Tiger Woods — a natural who’s lost his swing. He has so many different swing thoughts in his head, so many people whispering in his ear about what the polls say and how he needs to position himself to get re-elected, that he has lost all his natural instincts for the game. He needs to get back to basics. . . .

“Mr. President, on a rainy day, rent the movie ‘Tin Cup.’ There is a great scene where Dr. Molly Griswold is trying to help Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy, the golf pro, rediscover his swing — and himself. She finally tells him: ‘Roy ... don’t try to be cool or smooth or whatever; just be honest and take a risk. And you know what, whatever happens, if you act from the heart, you can’t make a mistake.’”
Let’s try to get a bead on the “thought” behind the conceit that, like Tiger Woods, Obama is a “natural” who has “lost his swing.”

That doesn’t even work as a description of Woods. Yes, it makes some sense to call Tiger a natural because he was shooting in the seventies before he was a teenager and was winning major tournaments before he was twenty. You can’t do that without having exceptional natural gifts. And yes, it makes sense to say that Tiger once had a great “swing” that, judging by his recent results in tournament competition, he has lately misplaced. But, having been perfected in countless practice sessions under the watchful eye of expert coaches, the “swing” that won Tiger all those majors owed a lot more to artifice than to nature. Imagine the offense Tiger, or any other accomplished golfer, would take at the suggestion that he’d be winning majors again if he’d “just be honest and take a risk” by “act[ing] from the heart.”  That's romantic comedy, not golf.

Now try applying Friedman's terms to Obama and you'll see it isn't presidential politics either. Let’s concede that he too is a “natural.” But a natural what? When Friedman says Obama has lost “his natural instincts for the game,” what game is he talking about?

Judging from his undistinguished record in the Illinois and United States Senate, and the results of his presidency so far, you have a hard time convincing anyone that Obama’s a natural when it comes to governing. Maybe, he’s getting the hang of being President, but if he is that will be the triumph of diligent art over nature, just like Tiger’s golf swing. Being a successful president is never just a matter of being “smart,” “decent,” "tough" and having the “right instincts.” No one is instinctively presidential.

I suppose you could say that Obama was a natural campaigner inasmuch as he stepped onto the national stage as a relatively young man already able to give speeches that projected the appearance of conviction and competence well enough to persuade voters to entrust him with high office. But appearing principled and competent isn’t the same thing as having well-articulated convictions and the capacity to serve them effectively in the White House. Three years into Obama’s presidency, lots of people are measuring the appearances projected on the campaign trail against the realities of his governing record and experiencing at least a pang of buyer's remorse.

So what, exactly, is the “swing” that Friedman thinks Obama desperately needs to get back? You’ll have to ask Friedman, but it looks to me like it’s the facility persuasively to project appearances of conviction and competence. From all appearances, having convictions and governing effectively in the light of them don’t have much to do with it.


Anonymous said...

Friedman has outdone himself - if that's even possible!

First, he says that Obama's opposition is dedicated to making him fail. Isn't that was "opposition" means??? Opponents don't prop up the opposition! Those would be the supporters.

And what president hasn't had tons of people whispering in their ears about what the polls say and how to get positioned to get re-elected? It's up to the president to care or not.

And, I agree with you, what "game" is Friedman talking about exactly?

Maybe Friedman really means Obama's golf swing, and you just think he's making an analogy.

That's the only way Friedman's comments make sense.

Gloomy Gus said...

For me, the most impressive fact is that this fatuous nonsense appears in the New York Times under the byline of their star columnist. What is happening to the intellectual standards of the mainstream media?

Mean Voter said...

To Gloomy Gus: Your post implies that the mainstream media used to have intellectual standards. I think they've been gone for a long, long time.