Larry Flynt, the publisher of “Hustler,” is a staunch backer of President Obama, declaring that Obama has “overperformed.” This is indeed strong praise, coming from a man who wore an American flag as a diaper when appearing in court, as well as wearing a Purple Heart Medal to which he was not entitled. Surely such a man has a keen understanding of what constitutes a performance.
But this brings up an important question: What do we mean when we use the word “performance”? And no, I’m not referring to “performance issues.” The word has two basic meanings.
The first meaning refers to how someone is actually doing something. When we say a baseball pitcher is a real performer, we mean that he strikes out opposing batters and wins games. When we compliment an employee on her performance, we mean that she accomplishes necessary tasks promptly and efficiently.
The second meaning refers to how someone pretends to be doing something, or to the style with which he does it. When we say that an actor gave a superb performance as a Navy SEAL, we mean that he looked like a special operator. But when we say that the real SEALS in the film “Act of Valor” were mediocre performers, we mean that these men are superb professionals as special operators, but they are amateurs as actors.
Sometimes the meaning of “performance” is unclear, even in context. When the boss bawls out an employee, we say, “Boy, the boss really put on a performance.” This may mean, “The boss really told off that lazy bum.” But it could also mean, “The boss really put on a show.” Or it could mean a little of both.
The point is that “performance” has two meanings that may sometimes be indirectly related, but which are fundamentally different. The dual meaning may lead to confusion, especially in this age of ever-present media. We may become so habituated to watching TV and movie actors performing in fictional dramas that we lose the ability to separate the two meanings. We may call actors “action heroes,” though they only impersonate action heroes.
In show business, this confusion is of little significance – it may even enhance our enjoyment of the film. But in politics, this confusion can have serious consequences. And contrary to what some may claim, politics is not a branch of show business. Granted, politicians must learn to project a favorable image in order to be elected. But once they are elected, image alone is not enough – they actually have to carry out the duties of their office.
It is true that government officials, as well as leaders in the military and business, must be seen to be performing their duties. It’s a leadership function. Confidence in one’s leaders is obviously essential in the military – it is necessary for victory, or even for survival. Confidence in one’s leaders is helpful in business, and more than helpful in government, especially in times of trouble.
But in the end, what matters most is competence. If I need surgery, I would like my surgeon to have a pleasant bedside manner, but I insist that he be a skilled surgeon. I really don’t care whether he shows up in a three-piece suit or scrubs. In fact, the surgeon who operated on me had a rather gruff manner. If I need a mechanic for my car, I would like him to be friendly, but I insist that he know what he is doing. I really don’t care if he wears a clean shirt and pants or grease-stained coveralls. In fact, the mechanic who worked on my old car had a grumpy personality.
When it comes to politicians, and especially presidential contenders, things get a bit more complex. I want the person to be intelligent, have good values, and have the courage to put those values into effect. I want him to be strong enough to stand up to foreign enemies and domestic critics, and still do what is necessary for our country.
But I also want him to project these qualities. If he does not project strength, our enemies may conclude that they can get away with building nuclear weapons, or attacking their neighbors, or attacking us. The best effect of being strong – and looking strong – is that often one does not need to demonstrate that strength. We all have known men who may not be physically huge, but who project a serious demeanor that says, “Don’t mess with me.”
On the other hand, we also have known men who project an aura of confusion, indecision, and timidity – which only attracts aggressors. But which type is exemplified by President Obama? Recall his bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia, the emperor of Japan, and others? Recall his notion of “leading from behind”? Here we see that poor performance (in the sense of actually doing the job) can overlap poor performance (in the sense of appearing to do the job).
Bowing to foreign leaders does not even give the semblance of being a strong leader. “Leading from behind” does not even allow the illusion of being an effective leader. Cutting defense spending by almost half a trillion dollars over 10 years does not even give the impression of wanting to lead a world power.
Larry Flynt was entirely correct if he meant that Barack Obama gave an excellent “performance” as a presidential candidate. Obama was young and handsome, he spoke smoothly, he had an engaging smile, he was overflowing with innovative ideas for “change,” and he was “cool” – everything John McCain was not.
But Flynt was only partially correct if he meant that Obama is giving a good “performance” as president. Yes, Obama is still handsome, though not quite so young. Yes, he still speaks smoothly, though not quite so smoothly, even with the aid of teleprompters. Yes he is still intelligent, though not so intelligent as he seemed, or as he thinks he is. Yes, he still has an engaging smile, though he has less to smile about. But bowing to foreign leaders and “leading from behind” do not project the image of a world leader.
And Flynt was incorrect if he meant that Obama is actually doing an effective job as president:
● Intense interparty bickering.
● Increasing class envy and racial strife.
● Even liberal states like Wisconsin rejecting the leftist agenda.
● Alienating military voters and veterans with his anti-military agenda.
● Alienating black leaders with his leftist agenda.
● Astronomical numbers now referring to the national debt rather than to space exploration.
● America losing its AAA bond rating.
● Bill Clinton publicly contradicting Obama by calling for extending the Bush tax cuts and stating that we are in a recession.
● Potential enemies growing bolder.
● Iran building nukes while mobs scream “Death to America!”
● The “reset” with Russia producing more hostility, not less, as Russia draws closer to China.
These are hardly the results of successful leadership. “It could have been worse” is not the hallmark of overperformance. It sounds a lot more like mediocrity at best, and the clumsiness of an amateur at worst.
Has Barack Obama overperformed as president? Only in the sense that he overreached in accepting a role for which he was underequipped and underprepared, and then he overacted when he attempted to play it.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.