You might have seen the photo where President Obama participates in The Ohio State University tradition of spelling out the word O-H-I-O Village People style. The President has been chided by many for having spelled the word wrong by attempting to be the “H” after the “I”. Most of these criticisms are wrong, as surely no-one could honestly believe that Barack Obama thinks that the 17th state in the Union is spelled “OIHO”. In truth, the President’s human typo was an easy mistake to make. “OIHO” seen from the other side, the President’s side, spells “OHIO”. From his perspective the word was spelled right.
But that’s the point, and that’s why this visual image is an important metaphor for Obama himself. It didn’t immediately occur to him that there might be another perspective.
We’ve seen this before: “The police acted stupidly.” “Clinging bitterly to God, guns, and religion.” There is the President’s perspective, and if you can’t see things his way, you’re just bitter and stupid. At least until he’s made to understand that there might be a political price to pay for his intransigence, at which point, he’ll suggest a “beer summit” to try and demostrate how “in touch” he is with “real Americans”.
I heard a story about an interview with Ronald Reagan conducted the day that he left office. The reporter asked Reagan how he thought that being an actor prepared him for the presidency. The newly former President thought for a moment and answered, “I know how I look on tv.” You would be wrong if you quickly dismissed that remark as trite or even vain. Instead, it spoke to Reagan’s understanding of the attribute of empathy that he knew that a leader has to have. An actor must be able to convey through words and actions, the thoughts and emotions of his character in a way that the audience can feel and understand. Bill Clinton certainly understood this. His trademark phrase “I feel your pain,” was Clinton’s testimony to the veracity of Reagan’s remark.
Were Obama possessed with empathy, he would have served Sam Adams to himself and his beer summit guests, but that’s not how he thinks. After Democrats suffered a worse mid-term defeat in 2010 than they did in 1994, there was much speculation that Barack Obama would change course, appropriate some popular planks from the other side, and ride Bill Clinton-style to an easy victory two years later. “OIHO” show us that there was never any chance that this was going to happen. There was never any chance that Barack Obama would advocate for trimming wasteful government spending, cutting government salaries, or suggesting changes to his health care plan. He wasn’t wrong; he just didn’t try hard enough or explain things well enough.
From his perspective, Barack Obama is still right. From his perspective, he is always right. Other perspectives, be damned.
p.s. Just because you don’t need an excuse to link to a classic Buggs Bunny clip.Comments Off