Obama tests our patience

President Obama came to the cameras Tuesday night intent on righting the ship. His young presidency had spent nearly a full week listing in turbulent, uncharted waters thanks to executives in New York handing out bonuses to employees who helped drown an insurance company. Gone were the nervous giggles that surfaced on “60 Minutes” and the breezy confidence we witnessed on Jay Leno’s set.

Obama appeared somber and tired, and at moments somewhat testy. He said the AIG bonuses made him “as angry as anybody,” but he never really looked it. What defined Obama’s appearance, and dominated his message, was his trademark, monkish calm. He pledged perseverance and, by repeating, once again, that there will be “no quick fixes” and “no silver bullets,” Obama implored us to be patient.

ADVERTISEMENT
We know that patience comes naturally to Barack Obama. But Americans are not a patient people. We don’t use bikes instead of cars; generally, we want to get where we are going yesterday. Our food is fast, our communication faster — we have even found a way to skip television commercials. Surely that enormous wealth and growth, which seemed to arrive overnight, should be returning sometime soon.

Last week the U.S. Congress embodied our impatience, answering populist outrage with a rash uproar — the House rushing through a 90 percent, retroactive tax that likely could not pass constitutional muster. There was no time for hearings on the bill, but plenty of time for a hearing to eviscerate AIG and the man the government placed at its helm, after the bonuses plans had already been made public last spring.

Obama sought to douse the flames on Tuesday. Though he had indulged in the fury last week, using a few nouns like “outrage,” he circled back around to his we’re-all-in-this-together leadership style Tuesday night, saying we cannot demonize every investor who seeks to make a profit.

And though he faces increasing criticism of his plans from Democrats as well as Republicans, Obama said what he is “confident about is that we’re moving in the right direction,” and that he will rely upon persistence to bring results and solve problems. “That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come as long as I’m in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence,” Obama said.

Then the president added, with a lot of nerve — or perhaps tremendous patience — that it could take years before we can judge him. Obama said we can “look back four years from now, I think, hopefully, people will judge that body of work and say, this is a big ocean liner. It’s not a speedboat. It doesn’t turn around immediately. But we’re in a better, better place because of the decisions that we made.”

In this crisis, Obama’s oceans of patience are going to test the patience of many Americans. His Extremely Big Picture can make him distant, because Obama often sounds as if he is already looking back on what we are going through instead of living it now. But without his long view, Obama would never be president today. Without it he would never have taken on the Clinton political machine in the face of numerous naysayers and the steepest of odds.

Of course, given the magnitude of our current problems, we don’t need short fuses, impulsiveness or overreaction. In these uncertain times, no matter how bad things get, the one thing we can bank on will be President Obama’s reaction. Mr. Long View is in charge. He will be persistent, and we must be patient. And no matter how shaky things get, don’t expect President Obama to start shaking.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.