Tell us how you really feel, Mr. President

It would be interesting if the president spoke about how he really, truly sees things right now—how he understands America’s quandary, what caused it, who caused it, why. What the structural problems are, why the Western nations are broke, what we can do about it. How—or if—we can create growth again. How we can balance our books.

This seems obvious and boring, but oddly enough few people know how Mr. Obama really views things, how he sees the big picture. He keeps it to himself, as if he doesn’t want the natives to get restless with too much information. His supporters say he is a pragmatist, a practical progressive. Fine, but what does that mean? At this point he’s in so much trouble he could declare he was a character out of a Clifford Odets play, wave a copy of “Das Kapital,” and shout, “I’ve got the answer!” and it would probably improve his position.

He tends to confine himself to generalizations and platitudes, and he tends to follow them with assertions of support for small measures—a tax credit for the makers of environmentally safe housing, or some money to repair school buildings—that address a little part of an overall problem whose contours and causes he leaves undefined. His legislative affairs people must think small pieces of legislation add up to a large pointillist portrait of political meaning. But they don’t, they just seem like disconnected dots…

The benefits of this approach? He would appear to be thinking, not only calculating. He would seem aware of the big picture, of this moment in history. It might lift him beyond the platitudes and out of the smallness. And who knows, it just might spark the debate we often say we are having, but so far are not, about the size, role, purpose and responsibilities of government. That wouldn’t be bad.

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