First and foremost, Obama has utterly
overexposed himself. As a marriage counselor I always advise husbands and
wives that, paradoxically, their marriages require intimacy on the one hand,
but barriers and distance on the other. Wives walking around a bedroom
unclothed, for example, is an invitation to erotic boredom and a dilution of
body’s natural attractiveness. Overexposure, as everyone knows, breeds
contempt. The Catholic Church is a master of mystery – from the shadows of its
darkly lit gothic cathedrals to its insistence on innumerable divine
mysteries – and it is therefore no wonder that it grew to become the world’s
largest faith. It is the same reason why, in Judaism, Torah scrolls are
secreted in an ark, obscured first by doors, then curtains, then a velvet
covering, all of which increases hiddenness and thus reverence. In Hollywood it
is specifically those celebrities who understand the need to stay out of the public
eye that achieve the greatest longevity in it. Obama, by contrast, has the
unfortunate flaw of always needing to be loved. He is forever in our face. From
weighing in on every issue right down to the Ground Zero mosque to becoming the
President who travelled most in his first two years, Obama lives permanently in
the sun. President Bush used to vacation on his ranch where he’d disappear for
two weeks. Not so Obama who even on holiday is constantly photographed buying
ice cream and shooting hoops. Less is more, Mr. President. Sometimes you have
to give the people the opportunity to miss you. Superman knows that his grand
entrances depend on being disguised the rest of the time as Clark Kent. But by
being forever available, Obama has made himself pedestrian. He went from
Messiah to mortal, rock star to bland stone.
Second, Obama has betrayed a lack of
substance. When he was more mysterious, Obama encouraged our belief that
there was subterranean depth beneath the gleaming surface. Just give the man
some time and out will come the magic. But it turned out that vacuous speeches
on hope and change were not the thin veneer that concealed great complexity but
the very substance itself. I have yet to hear one truly new or exciting idea
from Barack Obama since becoming President. President Bush was dismissed as a
lightweight. But love it or hate it, the Bush doctrine of preemption and its
corollary of exporting democracy to recalcitrant states was a compelling and
divisive idea that invited ferocious debate. But with Obama we are back to the
tired, yawn-inducing discussions of big versus limited government and whether
Keynesian stimulus spending or reducing the national debt is the best way to
kindle the economy. I’m bored.
Third, Obama comes across as perfect.
The most interesting people are always the most tortured. Bill Clinton clogged
his arteries with cheeseburgers and had sex with an intern in the Oval office.
Yet, he left the presidency with a sixty percent approval rating. America never
lost its fascination with this angst-ridden and highly imperfect leader, so
unpredictable that we never knew what he’d get up to next. Not so
no-drama-Obama who evinces an imperturbable cool utterly bereft of inner
trauma. Of course we don’t want the President to cheat on his wife. But show us
a tiny demon or two, other than the fact that you light up a cigarette.
Demonstrate that you wrestle with moods the way we do when we can’t pay our
bills, that you struggle with life’s disappointments like us ordinary mortals.
When I was a boy I revered but had no deep interest in our founding fathers
because they were portrayed as marble busts who were perfect. It was only later
when we discovered how inconsistent the slave-owning Thomas Jefferson could be
about human freedom, how depressed and suicidal Lincoln became, and how Martin
Luther King, Jr. wrestled with marriage that these aloof figures were humanized
and became so endlessly fascinating. In this sense I believe Obama was poorly
served by seemingly being a golden boy who suffered few setbacks. Perhaps it’s
time for him to talk about the pain of being an abandoned child who was later
orphaned of his mother as well, or the pain of seeing his popularity plummet.
Perfect people are boring and monolithic. But flawed human beings who rise
above adversity to reach great heights are inspirational. And if the President
wants to recapture the public imagination, he would do well to expose a wart or
two before the November elections.