Barack Obama really does not have it so bad. He gets $400,000 a year in salary, $50,000 in expenses, a fleet of planes, a car and driver, and almost all the golf he can stand.
In other words, the president’s life is almost as good as Donald Trump’s.
With one major exception: President Obama feels actual remorse. And considerable responsibility. And Trump may never have felt either.
In his last State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama spoke of something presidents rarely speak of at such moments: regret.
Pointing out how “our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention,” Obama said, “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter, that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”
He went on, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency: that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
And who is to blame, according to Obama?
Obama is to blame. At least a little.
“There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide,” Obama said, “and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”
But he won’t hold the office for very much longer — only a little more than a year. And Obama said that if things are going to improve, somebody else needs to bear some blame around here: you and I.
Which made it an unusual political speech. If there is one rule of politics, one unbreakable commandment, it is this: Thou shalt never blame the voters.
The voters are holy. They can do no wrong. Or, rather, they can be blamed for no wrong. Because if you blame them, they may not vote for your party. And we couldn’t have that, could we?
Yes, we could, said Obama. Because our political spite and meanness have gotten out of control. And that must stop.
“My fellow Americans, this cannot be my task? — or any president’s — alone,” Obama said. “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. … It’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”
We must “end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” Obama said. “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”
In other words: Don’t hold your breath.
No, wait. That’s the kind of cheap cynicism that Obama wants to eradicate or at least reduce.
“What I’m asking for is hard,” he admitted. “It’s easier to be cynical, to accept that change isn’t possible and politics is hopeless and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.”
You bet it is! And if you get cynical and hopeless enough, they make you a columnist!
Obama blamed an array of people, most of whom turned out to be Republicans running for president.
Chris Christie was the target when Obama said, “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.”
Ted Cruz was the target when Obama said, “The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.”
And Trump was the target when Obama said: “When politicians insult Muslims … that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”
Making these statements — as true as they may be — will not do much to decrease the rancor in Washington, however.
Which Obama admits. He is not perfect. Often criticized for being aloof and academic, he is, in fact, proud of his toughness. If you are not tough in the world of today’s politics, nobody will respect you. Which means you have to be tough without being so tough that nobody will work with you, either.
“Our brand of democracy is hard,” Obama said Tuesday night. But there are good people in it who redeem it.
And Obama listed some of them, including “the American who served his time … but now is dreaming of starting over.”
“The protester determined to prove that justice matters.”
“The young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”
“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”
And Obama ended with a Carl Sandburg-like list, saying Americans are “cleareyed, bighearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage at a campaign rally in Windham, New Hampshire, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder