Did anyone else feel the sober tone of the President last Wednesday?
He seemed tired, ill-prepared, scattered, aloof.
It looked to this observer as though he did not want to be there, but for different reasons than the pundits suppose. I saw a President who was tired of the nonsense, the posturing, the game in the Charlie the Tuna ad – “Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is good.” He knew that the solutions proposed by his opponent were the problem that brought America to its knees on near economic collapse in 2008, and that the Republican Party set its sights on insuring the failure of his presidency instead of working together to solve the nation’s problems.
The President is a kind man. His civility is offensive to his enemies and his friends alike. He doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. But his belief in doing to others as he would have them to him is more than a throw-line. At the Democratic National Convention, he had refused to follow the crowd in shouting down Gov. Romney as if he were evil incarnate. Even after Clint Eastwood had put in Obama’s mouth words that he never speaks (“Shut up”), the President chose not to retaliate. He hushed the convention delegates from playing tit-for-tat. He told them not to go there, to rise above it, incurring the anger of a number of party faithful who wanted him to fight with brass knuckles.
Last Wednesday President Obama’s face and demeanor seemed to say, “I want to be somewhere else. I hate this. I hate this charade. There has to be a better way than sound bytes, memorizing one-line shots to fire across each others’ bows, the twisting of fact and the avoidance of the deep philosophical questions that keep a President awake in the night.”
There are no simple solutions to America’s current problems. They’ve been building for decades. There are no magic wands. The problems are moral, spiritual, and structural. This President knows that reality is different from the one we would like to make up. When such a one sees the complexity, it’s hard to step out on a staged, phony debate that squeezes the world into the nut-sized phrases and slogans that ring the bell that makes Pavlov’s dog salivate.
Could the stage on which he stood – on the night of his real wedding anniversary – have struck him as the opposite of reality itself? Maybe that’s why he didn’t ring the bell.