I thought President Obama’s pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News was noteworthy because of how evasive and dismissive the President was. He simply didn’t answer the questions O’Reilly posed. He accused Fox News of essentially inventing the Benghazi and IRS scandals – which is, to put it mildly, quite a difference from what internal investigations and Congressional reports have said about both matters. The IRS began its scandal spin control by effectively admitting its power was abused for political reasons; Obama said he was mad as hell and would get to the bottom of it, no matter what; after months of doing nothing, Obama now says there was never a story to begin with.
Every Republican politician of the modern era daydreams about being able to get away with a racket like that. In the mirror universe where President John McCain’s State Department got four Americans killed in Libya due to sheer negligence and then lied copiously on national television to cover it up… well, okay, cancel that thought experiment, because there’s no plausible way a Republican could get re-elected after something like that. But let’s just say that in the mirror universe, the families of those murdered Americans became huge media celebrities with Absolute Moral Authority, and if McCain tried to blow them off by saying the scandal was a figment of MSNBC’s partisan obsessions, he wouldn’t finish whatever term he was serving.
At the end of the interview came a moment when O’Reilly asked Obama about his old campaign promises to “fundamentally transform America,” and Obama said “I don’t think we have to fundamentally transform the nation,” then got a bit cross when O’Reilly reminded him he once promised to do exactly that. A bubbling mass of 2014 campaign porridge about good jobs and good schools then poured out of the President’s mouth, and that was that.
I can’t believe anyone finds it surprising that Obama would back away from his old messianic fundamental transformation rhetoric. If the clock hadn’t run out, this is the kind of rhetoric-vs-reality catastrophe that O’Reilly could have torn Obama to shreds with – “If you don’t believe that’s necessary, Mr. President, why did you tell your supporters it was, and present yourself as the right man to bring that fundamental transformation about?” Of course, in the mirror universe, it wouldn’t have taken five years for one pugnacious interviewer to make Republican Obama eat those words.
But really, at this point, with the fiery wreckage of ObamaCare strewn across the land, a trillion dollars wasted on “stimulus” plans that didn’t stimulate any job growth, and a mediocre non-recovery rambling along past emergency unemployment extensions lining the road to insolvency like Burma Shave signs, not even a world-class narcissist is going to boast about fundamental transformation. That kind of boast is only fun to make when you’re not actually responsible for anything. Obama’s political strategy, since the day he arrived in the Oval Office, has been to pretend that yesterday was the day he arrived. He’s not game for any retrospectives on his 2008 fundamental transformation agenda, or how things worked out once he got the power to implement it. In this one way – perhaps in only this one way – experience has brought a measure of humility to the man who built a personality cult by posturing as a historically unique savior, if not a demigod right off the slopes of Mount Olympus.
But really: he did fundamentally transform America, didn’t he? And I don’t think our lowered-expectations all-is-lost New Normal is far from what he had in mind back in 2008.