Does Obama Get It? Yes!

What the critics of Obama are not understanding is that he does get it, and what it means for him is “Stay the course.” Obama doesn’t think the election results means he has to change; it means he has to do better at what he believes in and is already doing. No backing down here at all.

The one thing all should admire here is that Obama believes in what he is doing. It may well cost him the 2012 election, but he’s a true-blue liberal and he knows exactly what that means. It means he will stay the course. Which means I don’t think there’ll be much change in the next two years.

Clip from WaPo’s Dana Milbank, a basic retelling of the press conference yesterday.

The president, facing the media in the East Room the day after what he called his “shellacking” at the polls, admitted it had been a “long night.” He confessed that it “feels bad.” He acknowledged “sadness” that so many friends and allies had lost their seats.

But what he would not acknowledge is that his policies had in any way contributed to the shellacking and sadness.

The Associated Press’s Ben Feller asked if he would concede that the midterms had been “a fundamental rejection of your agenda.”

Obama declined. “What they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven’t made enough progress on the economy.”

NBC’s Savannah Guthrie noticed that “you don’t seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions.”

“Over the last two years, we have made a series of very tough decisions, but decisions that were right,” Obama volleyed.

“You still resist the notion that voters rejected the policy choices you made?”

“Voters are not satisfied with the outcomes,” the president said.

No matter how many ways reporters phrased the question, the answer was the same. CNN’s ED Henry suggested there may be “a majority of Americans who think your polices are taking us in reverse,” and asked: “You just reject that idea altogether that your policies could be going in reverse?”

“Yes,” Obama said sharply.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I respect this response.

  • James

    Sounds to me like the reporters were right to keep pressing, and that he “gets it” the way the captain of the Titanic got the warnings against staying the course on a route the North Atlantic littered with icebergs.

  • Jeremy

    The problem with democracy is that conviction in the face of popular sentiment gets you fired. While I’m on the fence as far as some of his decisions, I can respect his unwillingness to pander to the polls.

  • http://andypotter.org Andrew Potter

    I would prefer that Obama did change course since I disagree with many of his policies. However, I would suggest that his attitude of not backing down is even simpler than suggested above. I think he is taking a gamble and hoping that the economy will turn around. I don’t think the American people (or any people for that matter)are as deeply principled as we might hope. As a politician you can do pretty much what you want as long as people have jobs, are earning good money and are well fed. I think Obama is hoping this will turn around than he will have more freedom for his agenda.

  • Richard

    He gets it. Now let’s see if the GOP gets it. Obama has stated that the number one goal is getting back jobs and strengthening the economy. The GOP has gone on record after the election saying the number one priority is preventing Obama’s re-election and number two is repealing healthcare and/or undermining its implementation until “their guy” is in.

    So glad we could clean up Washington by kicking out all of the moderate Democrats…

  • ChrisB

    “he does get it, and what it means for him is “Stay the course.””

    He can stay the course if he chooses, but if that’s how he interprets this election, he doesn’t get it.

    People want the spending spree and job-killing policies to stop. Staying the course will not accomplish that.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Great. Now time to shoot off a “keep the backbone” email to him instead of the “get a backbone email”.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    …only time will tell, eh?

    What I think “he doesn’t get” is that this really is a more centrist / conservative country … and they’re not buying into his true-blue liberal story. It’s not that he’s not communicating … it’s that the story he’s telling is not one that the majority of citizens want to be living.

    It will be a very interesting few years, indeed.

  • http://awaitingawhiterobe.blogspot.com MikeB

    Generally agree with the comments in 2,3,4

    - the fiscal train wreck (iceberg) is coming and spending and committing in entitlements trillions to our debt is only going to make the impact worse.

    - I can respect that he will not back down from his ideology/principles. However I can disagree with two things: his ideology and his refusal to acknowledge that the US disagrees too.

    - I agree that in general that US voters are too short-term focused and generally lack appreciation for the Constitutional government we have and thus vote accordingly.

    However I also think we are still a right of center nation that is not ready for the far left polices that Obama & the 111 Congress passed and if they press on with this agenda then 2012 will probably more of the same at the polls.

    -MikeB

  • Gavin

    Isn’t “staying the course” and “not changing” and “sticking with his convictions” the EXACT SAME THINGS that liberals and the media were killing Bush for doing just a few short years ago? Do you not remember this? Don’t you see the irony in your own words? When Bush did it, it was close-minded, stubborn, blind, reckless, irresponsible, etc., etc. When Obama does it, it’s admirable, strong, wise, etc., etc.

    Disgusting, Scot, if you ask me. (and well, you didn’t; but I commented anyway!)…

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Gavin, the difference is in what Bush was staying with compared to what Obama is staying with, obviously :)

    I think Obama should change one thing. Instead of “yes” he should start say “you betcha!”.

  • MattR

    This election was NOT about policy… I didn’t hear any policy coming from the GOP and Tea Party folks that got elected… only generalities. Time will tell if they actually have a coherent policy (ie- you can’t lower taxes, keep spending in the biggest areas the same, and seriously say you want to reduce the deficit).

    This was all about the economy… people are still struggling.

    Pres. Obama gets that.

    AND this was all about the fact that the center-left coalition that helped elect Obama (young people, minority groups- who are slowly becoming the majority, etc.) typically don’t vote in as great of numbers in mid-term elections.

    Obama gets that too.

    And he gets that the country has been slowly moving center-left. So he can’t abandon the very people he’ll need for 2012.

    The Pres is a good leader. Don’t agree with him on everything… but in his first two years he has chosen policy over politics.

    The GOP seems to have chosen politics over policy at this point… will be an interesting few years.

  • http://www.timspivey.com Tim

    I wrote some thoughts on this at http://www.timspivey.com . I think there is a difference between conviction and prideful stubbornness. I think he has great leadership potential. He has led poorly so far.

  • albion

    What MattR said with the addition that Obama got a shellacking because he is a failure as a leader.

    He was a transformational candidate who became, in the name of bipartisanship, a conciliator as a President. He squandered a mandate far greater than Bush in his first term, wasting months of months of time and political capital trying to placate Republicans. Anyone with a fifth grade education could see after a couple of months that Republicans really are philosophically opposed to Keynesian economics and any form of government-run or public/private health care (excepting Medicare which produced the interesting tea party sign: “The government better keep its hands off my medicare!”). At that point, Obama should have shaken the dust off his feet and smashed the bipartisanship idol he worshipped.

    A stronger stimulus package (a terrible name by the way for tax cut/job creation bill) would have produced more jobs, and righted the economy sooner (at least that’s the view of many economists) and with more jobs, the shellacking he got might have been more akin to a slap on the wrist for not producing a miracle in 18 months but at least moving the country in the right direction. Instead he got anemic versions of two bills that no one really likes and a well-deserved ***-whooping.

    So this was not necessarily a referendum on Obama’s policies, however much the MSM wants to make that the narrative. It could just as easily be the very real, and typically irrational, response of the American people when they don’t get the immediate results they want. So they put the same people back in office whose timeless policies got us into this mess in the first place.

    Given that Obama is a conciliator and has made all kinds of noises about wanting to work with Republicans, I think Scot’s wrong that there won’t be much change in the next 2 years. The change will come and it will be Obama yet again compromising. There is an alternative but he won’t go there because it’s not who he is. His commitment to policy is not as strong as his commitment to compromise. And that’s a shame.

  • Linda

    I think that President Obama is out of touch with the American people, enjoy the song…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zV8xeA7Z5Q

  • MattR

    albion, #14

    Think you make some good points here. I hear this a lot from progressives… which is why I always laugh when my conservative friends complain about how ‘liberal’ Obama is!

    But I would just say this… Pres Obama is no hard left progressive.

    In fact he seems to be squarely center-left. And willing to be practical to try to get stuff done (ie: compromise, work with the other side). Which maybe makes both ends unhappy at this point!

    I think when you look at all he has accomplished in just two years, it is a lot, especially considering the economic situation.

    I think his main failure has been a failure to communicate. To tell us what his done, where he is going, how that will help the American people in a practical way… in other words a coherent narrative.

    Which is ironic, considering how well he communicated during the campaign!

  • Brandon Smith

    I honestly was wondering what Obama was so sincerely upset about because historically, mid term elections swing the other parties way. It is a general social construct that lets “the people” feel as if they had a revolution every so often. Then I realized that as a leader, he must show sadness due to people actually losing their jobs.

    I would not expect Obama to change his policies, and I certainly forsee him being a one term president if it must be that way because of the infamous “people”. I just pray that we would at least have a wider field of candidates in 2012 that are as bright and vibrant as Obama.

    I just can’t see a better president or leader out there at the moment in this field that isn’t just a sound biting machine built to win angry voters, not simply govern.

  • AHH

    I’m thinking he also feels (with some justification) that much of what voters were rejecting were not actually his policies, but caricatures of his policies that the propagandists of the right got many people to believe. For example, how many voters believed the false phrase “government takeover of health care”? How many think the bailouts happened under his watch?

    Like many moderate/liberal intellectuals, I think Obama believes that reason (what he sees as reasonable; I make this analysis without necessarily agreeing with his policies) will ultimately triumph over fear and propaganda if only things are explained well enough to the people. I don’t particularly share that optimism about the American public these days.

  • http://Chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber

    I don’t know if our President “get’s it” or not. I’m pretty sure that the American Christian community doesn’t “get it.” Our hope can’t be in political victories and defeats of either party.

    Christians need to stop putting so much energy into elections and get back to being the people of God and proclaiming the gospel of God. Jim Eliff said it well in a tweet the other day. “Conservative values under consideration tonight, but a serious turn in a conversative view of the Bible would do more good.” (Jim Eliff)

    It is Christ, not politicians promises that the world needs.

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    We generally expect politicians to sway with the wind of popular opinion. Obama is that rare individual who is a true ideologue, a true believer in the rightness of liberalism and big government. He’s smart enough to know that his beliefs are out of touch with the majority, but he thrives on the conviction that he knows better than most people what is best for America, what’s true, what’s going to make this country a better place for everyone. That’s why he is still convinced that his failing is in not properly explaining his policies, not in the policies themselves.

    It’s arrogant, of course, but an arrogance that is born (in his opinion) from greater wisdom than the Republicans have. He doesn’t hide his disdain for conservatism and is probably incapable of the sort of triangulation that Clinton engaged in to save himself after his own midterm defeat. Obama is an interesting and rare politician who seems more committed to his ideology than even his own political self-preservation. He’s going to make for some interesting political studies when he’s gone.

  • albion

    MattR: “Pres Obama is no hard left progressive” Entirely agree with you here and that he is center left and not a “true blue liberal.”

    AHH, you make a good point about caricatures and Obama’s faith in reason. It’s why he needed to carry the transformational tone of his campaign into his Presidency and then work to see his agenda realized. I admire Bush for that, as much as I disagreed with just about everything he did. He got elected and acted like a Republican as President, doing Republican things. Obama got elected, and acted like a Pastoral Counselor.

  • Derek

    I notice Scot that you say you admire that Obama wants to stay the course and believe in what he is doing. Fair enough. But how come when President Bush used language such as staying the course and governing on principles there was a loud collective howl about how “arrogant” he was?

    Double standard maybe?

  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    That Obama has made some big mistakes is hard to argue. That said, I can’t imagine anyone making any choices that would be markedly better given what he inherited. I think, perhaps, he was still the “lesser of evils”.

    What I don’t understand is suggestion, just because Scot (and others) affirm Obama in his commitment to stay the course is a double standard given the rejection of the same rhetoric from Bush. How is that a double standard? Obviously the two men represented courses that were vastly different, which inevitably means that if you affirm the commitment to one, you’d be strongly opposed to the commitment to the other. Scot is not (I assume) merely affirming Obama’s “sticktoitiveness”, but more the content of that which is he committed.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    I’m not sure what Obama gets, and what he does not get. If he assumes, as do progressives, that the only reason Americans oppose his agenda is because they are confused about what it entails (on account of right-wing propaganda), he doesn’t get it. American concerns are far more concrete than that.

    If he gets that his agenda is going to be unpopular, but simply thinks the people have it wrong, and that they will come around… Then he gets it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think he gets policy, and is therefore ill-equipped to sell his ideas to a skeptical public. As such, short of cynically triangulating, I can’t see how he wins re-election.

  • TJJ

    Don’t know what Obama gets, but here is what I get: after an election cycle that seemed like it dragged on forever, I am news channeled out! Negative ads out! I am in big time election politics fatigue, tired of the arguing, tired of the bashing and attacking and otherwise wacking of those who disagree or are from the other political party, tired of people who keep manning the barricades and shooting accross the divide.

    I am taking a break even if Obermann/Maddow and Beck/O’Rielly are not.

    Enough already.

  • Aaron

    The POTUS is an elitist, Hyde Park old school liberal. If he gets anything it is he believes bigger and fatter government is the best way to live. This is what he “gets.” What he doesn’t get is that the American people are not stupid. And I am also not quite sure he gets himself.

  • Jeremy

    I always love how conservatives refer to themselves as “the American people”…it’s cute. And extremely unhelpful in creating a national dialogue. The nation seems to be fairly divided on the right/left split, folks. The other half are still the American people too.

    I also find the ideologue language kind of silly…if I don’t agree with you and you stick to your guns, ideologue. If I do, courageous stick-to-itive kind of dude! Frankly, if that’s the way you think, you see the ideologue in the mirror every morning.

    The anabaptist disengagement with politics is becoming more appealing.

  • Susan N.

    I believe that Obama “gets it” and admire his courage to stay true to himself and his convictions. I also admire his call for both parties to work together for the good of the American people. If I frequently feel alone in my support of the president, I can only begin to imagine the weight of his burden! I pray that he keeps his hands and heart clean, living amidst the dirty environment of Washington politics as he is.

    As far as the outcome of the election being a mandate for reversing the course, since it seemed to be mostly about money, I think the shift speaks more to an inability of the people to be patient and realize that a mess of the massive proportions that we dug ourselves into over the past decade or two will take time–and more than two years–to climb out of. Spending cuts? Medicare, Social Security, or Military? Tax cuts? Just who will pay for the debt we’ve run up as a nation, our children?

    My husband and I debate the wisdom of sticking with the president. He is more worried and uncertain at this juncture. I say, in good conscience I can’t support the alternative political ideology, even though it will undoubtedly cost us personally to stand with Obama and his policies (in more ways than one, I might add).

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    I certainly understand the frustration that makes believers want to disengage from the political machinations of our day. And there are productive ways to disengage: reduce news intake via television and radio shock jocks. However, total disengagement is not only undesirable, but impossible.

  • http://awaitingawhiterobe.blogspot.com MikeB

    Seems this comment section mirrors our nation – some our pro Keynesian economics and pro-Government some are not. Those who are most supportive of the current President and outgoing 111 Congress seem to prefer Keynesian economic theory and a larger involvement by the government.

    We need to understand that for the most part the two parties are adhering to very different approaches to solving our countries problems. They represent different world-views if you will. Think Gentiles and believers in Eph 4 though I am sure we would all argue over who was darkened.

    The policies of the two parties will closely reflect these ideologies. Both Bush and (likely) Obama stick to the course they are on because that is the view they adhere too.

    Christians can certainly differ on how involved they want the government to be in various issues. Despite differences in approaches to helping the poor, what I really don’t get is how Christians can abandon the council of the Scriptures regarding debt. How can support large deficits and unbalanced budgets?

    Certainly we must reform the entitlement machine that we have created that is the largest amount of national spending (over 60%), financially unsustainable, is growing to become a large % of our GDP, and as a set of polices generally discourages people from rolling off government aid.

    Hopefully I will not be charged with the “you hate the poor and are against social justice” that generally follows advocating cutting government spending and entitlement programs.

    -MikeB

  • Mich

    OK–in for a penny in for a pound.
    There can be no “getting it” from Dems or Republicans because they are committed to diametrically opposite principals of economics. Republicans believe tax cuts and slashing spending will create jobs. Dems believe you need stimulus to jumpstart the economy because there is NO demand. Most economists support the Dems view, but they criticize Obama because the stimulus was NOT big enough–go read Stiglitz or Krugman.

    Now the Dems will be incapable of getting a stimulus bill through congress, and congress will be unable to push any tax cuts through the Senate. An interesting question that Republican deficit hawks have ducked is where to cut spending in the budget–if you believe this will really jump start the economy–see Herbert Hoover and Mellon.

    I think what you will see in the next 2 years is total gridlock and this means the economy and Americans will suffer in ways we have not seen since the great depression.

    Also, you may have noticed some interesting facts–Wall St and Big Business are reporting large profits again, but no new hiring. Why? Because there labor and markets are increasingly located offshore and overseas–they no longer need America.

  • Josh Mueller

    Scot,

    Who gets to decide what the “it” in getting it is?

    According to Republicans, the message being sent is: “Reverse your policies, Mr. President!”

    According to Democrats, it is not necessarily the policies but the anger and frustration about high unemployment and fear of foreclosures.

    I doubt Obama is unaware of either views. Question is: which one is more accurate and should he follow?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Did you all see Stewart’s O’bama getting “it” skit. It was good.

    To all of you who don’t think he gets “it”. He does, but someone else does not know what “it” is! :D

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    “Most economists support the Dems view, but they criticize Obama because the stimulus was NOT big enough–go read Stiglitz or Krugman.”

    Krugman actually has the respect of a lot of economists, but they do not read his op-eds. If you want to read his academic work, do so, by all means.

    No economist, on either side of the ideological divide, believes there is no demand. Were this the case, stimulus would be useless. The Keynesian argument (such as it is) assumes demand exists, and even that some funds exist to assuage the demand, such that “stimulus” will return dollars on pennies.

    “An interesting question that Republican deficit hawks have ducked is where to cut spending in the budget–if you believe this will really jump start the economy–see Herbert Hoover and Mellon.”

    Cut Obamacare, the payroll tax, the DOE, funding for post-secondary education, and part of Social Security and Medicaid. I’ll be accused of hating babies and grandmas, but at least I won’t be accused of ducking.

    That said, what did Hoover and Mellon (?) cut, and how (per the insinuation) did their cuts negatively impact the economy?

  • albion

    KevinS: You must hate babies and grandmas!

  • Christine

    Hmm . . . I might admire that he’s staying true to what he believes in IF what he believes in truly is best for the country at this point in time. I don’t think it is.

  • RobS

    I can’t remember a lot of situations where an elected official admits doing something wrong in public — I believe that’s because of politics. If an official is man (or woman) enough to admit a short-coming or mistake, then the other side will jump all over him for it. The best they will do is have a spokesman make a statement about how they “mis-spoke” and try to bury it in the sand.

    I’m not sure communication was a problem. It’s reported the President gave 52 speeches on ObamaCare and 21 town hall meetings, and 42 news conferences. It felt like he WAS on the campaign trail. He went to sell his policies to the American people.

    But, when you have things crossing the line as ethically dodgy (“Cornhusker Kickback” & “Louisiana Purchase” in the Health Care bill to ‘buy votes’), major questions about constitutionality in the same, huge differences in estimates of paying for things… etc… well, the Independent voter in the middle starts questioning things.

    Beyond that, the “olive branch” toward Muslim nations has not really changed radical Jihad (his approval #s are down in Muslim countries per Christian Post and LA Times). ACORN workers encouraging lewd & illegal acts hasn’t helped much. Bowing to foreign leaders and apologizing to them may have raised some eyebrows amongst voters. Nancy Pelosi telling us to vote for the bill so we can see what is in it… etc. Yes, an amazing campaign in 2008 against an un-amazing opponent (to say the least!) With $750B+ spent on stimulus that has left many wondering why unemployment really did go over 8% (he said it wouldn’t) … well… the lustre of the campaign is done and reality is hitting the fan.

    All that said, he’s committed to his agenda. Anyone with that much focus and resolve is a determined person and that is certainly a strength of the president. Hats off to him for that. Let’s hope he adapts quickly to the work of the country (and not either political party) for the next two years.


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