I suspect the American people would appreciate seeing Barack Obama learn from this, and keep going. He’s their president. He will be for the next few difficult years, which will no doubt contain moments he will have to lead us through. They also probably wouldn’t mind seeing a wry, modest, very human and self-critical stance from a new president who doesn’t strut and doesn’t swagger but does have a level of 1950s cool, Old Vegas cool, of supreme and confident smoothness that one wouldn’t mind seeing ruffled a bit by that old ruffler, reality. Critics of George W. Bush will say here, “Did he ever show wry self-criticism?” No, he didn’t. And that’s why it ended so well for him.
Modern presidents are always afraid to show anything so human as modesty or doubt. They’re afraid of the endless cable-news loop of “I think I was wrong, I think I misjudged, I didn’t get it right.” They’re afraid of death by soundbite. Which is understandable. But they should get over it, especially when it comes to a bit of self-criticism, and even a bit of self-doubt. Modesty is one of the prevailing moods of the moment, it’s part of where the American people are and have been since at least a year ago when the economy tanked. We all lived through the abundance, made good investments and bad, made mistakes of judgment, and are wondering about the past decade, and its mistakes, and our part in its mistakes.
It shouldn’t become a wallow, but there’s nothing wrong with self-reflection and trying to learn from everything we did that was wrong, and right. It wouldn’t be so bad to see a president echo this.