"It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man."
— Calvin Coolidge
WASHINGTON — Energetic in body but indolent in mind, Barack Obama in his frenetic campaigning for a second term is promising to replicate his first term, although simply apologizing would be appropriate. His long campaign's bilious tone — scurrilities about Mitt Romney as a monster of, at best, callous indifference; adolescent japes about "Romnesia" — is discordant coming from someone who has favorably compared his achievements to those of "any president" since Lincoln, with the "possible" exceptions of Lincoln, LBJ and FDR. Obama's oceanic self-esteem — no deficit there — may explain why he seems to smolder with resentment that he must actually ask for a second term.
Speaking of apologies, Syracuse University's law school should issue one for having graduated Joe Biden. In the 2008 vice presidential debate, he condescendingly lectured Sarah Palin that Article I of the Constitution defines the executive branch. Actually, Article II does. In this year's debate, he said overturning Roe v. Wade would "outlaw" abortion. Actually, this would just restore abortion as a subject for states to regulate as they choose. Biden, whose legal education ended well before he was full to the brim, was nominated for his current high office because Democrats believe compassion should temper the severities of meritocracy. It is, however, remarkable, and evidence of voters' dangerous frivolity regarding the vice presidency, that Biden's proximity to the presidency has not stirred more unease. To forestall that, Biden should heed Alexis de Tocqueville: "To remain silent is the most useful service that a mediocre speaker can render to the public good."
Two economic themes of Obama's campaign have been that outsourcing jobs is sinful, and that he saved GM, which assembles 70 percent of its vehicles on lines outside America. He thinks ATMs and airport ticket kiosks cause unemployment but may understand that buying an iPhone involves outsourcing to China the jobs of assembling it. Although his campaign slogan is "Forward!" he evidently wants America to compete with China in the manufacture of T-shirts and toasters. His third economic theme — that he will "invest in" (spend on) this and that — has been inaudible amid the clatter of crashing companies he has invested in.
Much of the Democratic Party's vast reservoir of condescension is currently focused on women, who are urged not to trouble their pretty little heads about actual problems but instead to worry that, 52 years after birth control pills went on the market and 47 years after access to contraception became a constitutional right, reproductive freedom is at risk. This insult may explain the shift of women toward Romney.
'Tis said two things not worth running after are a bus or an economic panacea, because another will come along soon. Obama's panacea is to cure what he considers government's unconscionable frugality. Nothing in Obama's campaign has betrayed an inkling that anything pertinent to Social Security or Medicare has changed since they were enacted 77 years and 47 years ago, respectively.
Four years ago, Obama said he would slow the oceans' rise but this year has not sought a mandate to cope with — he has barely mentioned — the supposedly onrushing calamity of climate change. He says this emergency (like everything else) justifies giving government huge new dollops of power, yet our Demosthenes evidently despairs of persuading the benighted public. (See above: condescension.)
His only notable new idea in this campaign is to alter the First Amendment in order to empower government to restrict the amount of permissible political speech — speech about the composition and conduct of government. Nancy Pelosi pledges that if Democrats control the House, they will pass this constriction of the Bill of Rights on the first day.
All politicians are to some extent salesmen. But Obama, having devalued the coin of presidential rhetoric by the promiscuous production of it, increasingly resembles a particular salesman, Arthur Miller's Willy Loman:
"For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that's an earthquake."
Why the empty stridency of the last days of Obama's last campaign? Perhaps he feels an earthquake's first tremors.
George Will's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.