Through sympathetic alchemy, New York Times Magazine political writer Matt Bai managed to transform Barack Obama's factually loose biography as a sign of "his narrative sophistication, his novelistic instinct for developing themes and characters that make his point" in his profile capturing the disappointment of Obama's supporters (which seem to include Bai himself), "Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief ."
Presidents generally don’t like to admit mistakes, so it was interesting when Barack Obama owned up to one during an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS last summer. It was the job of the president, Obama said, to “tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism,” and it was on this score that he had fallen short. Conservatives gleefully mocked the president, saying that the country needed jobs more than it needed stories, and the remark did seem to hint at some genuine denial. After 40-plus months of high unemployment, a president who thinks his mistakes rest not in his policy choices but rather in his ability to articulate them is probably telling himself a story, if no one else.
And yet Obama’s admission resonated with his supporters, who can be forgiven for wondering why he hasn’t been better at promoting what is, by any standard, an impressive series of accomplishments. (As the comedian Chris Rock tweeted recently: “Only Pres Obama could prevent a depression, end a war, get bin Laden, bring unemployment below 8 percent, then be told he can’t run on his record.”) In books and speeches before he became president, Obama showed himself to be an evocative storyteller; even the controversy over his memoir, in which Obama condensed some characters into one, says something about his narrative sophistication, his novelistic instinct for developing themes and characters that make his point.
All of which makes it even more baffling that Obama’s presidential alter-ego, this grayer and more somber version of his literary self, spent the past four years immersed in legislative minutiae and marching out dull slogans -- “an economy built to last,” “winning the future” and so on -- while failing to advance any larger theory of the moment confronting the country and what it required....
If a Republican had performed similar biographical tricks, would Bai offer similarly perverse praise, or instead suggest the Republican was cynically manipulating the facts of his past in the name of political posturing?
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch  site.