Peggy Noonan thinks that President Barack Obama needs a “Special Assistant for Reality” to tell him what the American people think about him and his policies. It is a good idea, but likely futile because Obama will not listen.
“A reporter covering the president’s trip to Indiana this week said Mr. Obama was visiting the heartland in part to get out of the presidential bubble. I’m sure this was true. Presidents always get to the point where they want to escape Washington, and their lives, and their jobs. But they never can. Because when you’re president and you go to Indiana, you take the bubble with you. Your bubble meets Indiana; your bubble witnesses Indianans. But you don’t get out of the bubble in Indiana. Once you’re in the bubble-once you’re in the midst of a huge apparatus, once you have the cars and the aides and the security and the staffers-there is no getting out of it.
“You cannot shake the bubble. Wherever you go, there it is. And the worst part is that the army of staff, security and aides that exists to be a barrier between a president and danger, or a president and inconvenience, winds up being a barrier between a president and reality.
“You lose touch with America and Americans in the bubble, no matter who you are, or what party. This accounts for some of the spectacular blunders presidents make.
“Because of the bubble, successful presidents have to walk into the presidency with an extremely strong sense of the reality of their country. In time, with the wear and tear of things, this sense of How Things Really Are may dissipate, disappear or remain stable, but it won’t get stronger. It never gets stronger. High political office is like great affluence: It detaches you. It separates you from normal life.
“Once you’re president, you’re not going to be able to change the features on your famous face; you’re not going to be able to escape security, grab a fishing rod, and go sit on the side of a river waiting for normal Americans to walk by, settle in, fish with you, and say normal American things, from which you will garner insights into what normal Americans think.”
There follows a hilarious fantasy dialogue between the President and the Special Assistant for Reality about why people are so cross about TSA airport security procedures. Mind, the real Barack Obama would accuse the SAR of being a right-wing blogger, would throw him out of the Oval Office, and have him marched from the White House under close escort by the Secret Service.
Peggy Noonan is right that every president needs to listen to news that he would not like hear from people who do not agree with his policies. Listening to a critic is a sure-fire way to find out the flaws in your policy before they get rolled out, since the critic is more motivated to find the flaws than you are.
I would alter Noonan’s idea in one respect. The Special Assistant for Reality needs to be in the loop for every policy proposal. He or she will report why the policy won’t work and suggest changes. Naturally, the President and his people would in no way be obligated to adopt the advice, but it will be a matter of law that the Special Assistant for Reality’s report on a policy should be published on the Internet and distributed to the media. So if and when the policy goes south, people will know that at least the White House was warned.
For instance, if I had been called in as a consultant for the Obama space policy about a year ago before its official rollout in February, I would have been able to save the administration a lot of grief by pointing out the flaws in it in advance. The White House and NASA likely would not have listened to me because their intent was not to improve the space program, but to all but bury it. But I would have warned them.
I’m not likely to be named as Special White House Assistant for Reality. But if I were, I would be happy to serve at a hefty fee. Failing that, the White House is more than welcome to read my articles and look at my blog, Curmudgeons Corner. The President and his people will find out all sorts of things from beyond the Bubble that they never dreamed about.
Sources: The Special Assistant for Reality, Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, November 26th, 2010
Curmudgeons Corner, Mark R. Whittington