Reg Henry: Obama not super, but who is?

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Clark Kent famously had two identities: cub reporter and Super Man. As my cub reporting days are over and my super powers have been sapped by the kryptonite of daily living, my dual identities are somewhat more modest.

Columnist and Rotarian.

Yes, I write columns more powerful than a steam locomotive that’s out of steam and am able to leap tall metaphors at a single bound.

As a Rotarian, life is not quite so dramatic. I have been sometimes asked to make a speech to new citizens after they have been naturalized — this because I was naturalized myself once and can speak from experience (with a funny accent, too).

In my stock speech to the newly minted Americans, I tell them that they can be anything they want to be in this great land — everything except president of the United States, as the Constitution makes clear.

But to soothe their disappointment, I quickly add: “You don’t want that job anyway. Look at what the current president is going through.” This always got a laugh when George W. Bush was president, and it gets a laugh now with Barack Obama in the White House. Especially now.

While Mr. Bush wasn’t Mr. Popularity by the end of his presidency, he at least always had the support of diehard fans (they would rather die than admit they were wrong).

Mr. Obama doesn’t have that luxury. One of his problems has always been that those on the right think he is on the far left while those on the left think he is not left enough. And many of those in the middle to left who were his diehard fans have since seen their affections afflicted by political rigor mortis.

The president’s reputation has gotten progressively worse even as the world has become worse, with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Russian depredations in Ukraine being the latest examples. Worse yet, Mr. Obama has been playing golf regularly and, as you know, no president in history has ever taken any time off to relax.

Columnist Maureen Dowd and Frank Bruni of The New York Times are no Tea Party zealots but they lately have joined the percussion section in the anti-Obama orchestra, taking a seat next to the tuba of the Washington Post editorial page.

Perhaps I should take up a petulant flute and play an anti-Obama tune too. It is tempting to do so because I think Mr. Obama has been a disappointment, to say the least. In my opinion, the United States has had two mediocre presidents in a row and the Congress has been worse.

While to be president is to be blamed for everything — which is why it’s a job no one should want — the situation is complicated. The American public’s view of the president is a product of its own conflicting views at any one time. We really want one president with dual identities. (Note to observant readers: This is the part of the column where I leap tall metaphors at a single bound.)

Right now, we want an action hero, a Super Man or a Super Hillary, who brings enormous strength to smite wrong-doers, which is what the beheaders and crucifiers of the Islamic State richly deserve.

But the last time the wrong-doers were smote in Iraq, it didn’t turn out so well — although perpetual war enthusiasts Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham never got the memo. So the American people decided that a swaggering Captain America who shot first and asked questions later was not what they wanted in their next president. Instead, they put their hope in Clark Kent.

While Clark Kent has lately had occasions to go into a few phone booths to change into his super tights (no easy feat these days), the mild-mannered one was back the other day to say “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting the Islamic State in Syria.

This was greeted as a great gaffe, but — as some liberal critics have forgotten— this caution was also why he was elected president in the first place. He was supposed to reflect a bit before going faster than a speeding bullet to destroy the Metropolis of the Middle East.

This is why I have some sympathy for whoever is president. You can’t possibly win in a job in which you are supposed to lead people who refuse to be led. Besides, kryptonite is apparently in the White House walls.


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.

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