Barack Obama’s "malaise moment" occurred in the afternoon of Aug. 28, when, dressed for failure in tan, he announced he did not have a strategy for combating the threat posed to us by ISIS and crossed into Carterland, the Desert of Fail feared by all politicians, in which the once fresh new face becomes for all time an object of ridicule, and each attempt made at controlling the damage only makes matters much worse.
Jimmy Carter, wrote Examiner columnist Michael Barone in his book Our Country, "failed to understand that voters yearning for control to be exerted over events would be appalled by the spectacle of a president canceling a major speech, isolating himself from public view, and declining all public comment while he met with ... private citizens ... for 'leisurely conversations about our nation, my administration, and the serious problems we faced.’ " But "leisurely converse" is not in demand when the world is on fire. Who knew?
Not Obama, who entered the malaise phase of his life on May 31, when he walked into the Rose Garden with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s parents and seemed to expect the public to praise him for giving them their son. Who knew the public wouldn’t be thrilled with the exchange of a likely deserter for five hardened terrorists? As retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters put it, "The president and Ms. [Susan] Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class."
Obama himself skipped class some weeks later, when he went AWOL from most of his serious duties after the flood of bad news got to be too much. Calling himself "the bear," he broke from his pen to stroll hither and thither while dropping in at fast-food joints to nosh. He spent more and more time with the rich and the glitzy. On a trip to the West, he avoided the border while finding time to shoot pool and drink beer.
"He’s kind of giving up on his job," said The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard. "He’s planning his post-presidency ... having lots of dinner parties where he doesn’t talk about policies or politics but the NBA playoffs. Anything but his job." On Aug. 20, he interrupted his vacation to extend his regrets to the parents of James Foley, the American journalist whose beheading had been shared with the world by his killers. Minutes later, Obama was filmed in his golf cart, laughing his head off with friends.
With this in mind it made perfect sense when he appeared last week, tan suit and all, to say he had no idea how to deal with a menace his own appointees had said posed a critical threat to his country. By this time, no one expected one of him. They would have been shocked if he had one.
"Is there really no one on the White House staff with the standing to confront Obama when he is about to make a self-evident mistake?" asked Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.
No, there is not. At this point the skills that enabled this president to win an election have eroded, grown rusty, or withered away. Most pretty good presidents have their pretty bad moments, but these are subsumed in the overall record and do not sink the whole. Malaise occurs when there is no real record, just a long string of increasingly cringe-inducing moments leading up to one final gesture that ties a big bow on it all. Malaise is where "hope and change" has found its undoing. Bonjour Malaise, and Goodbye, Columbus. He wasn’t that much after all.Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.