"The Oval Office, I always thought I was going to have really cool phones and stuff. ... I'm like, 'C'mon guys, I'm the president of the United States. Where's the fancy buttons and stuff and the big screen comes up?' It doesn't happen."
--President Barack H. Obama
The list of people I feel sorry for is long. It includes not just all of the people I know personally who are suffering from one misfortune or another, but the billions around the world who're having a rougher time than they ought: Japanese earthquake victims, targets of ethnic cleansing, etc. Then there's the supplemental list, which includes everyone from fans of "Lost" who were ripped off by the series finale to the guy in the middle seat on a long flight.
But one guy who doesn't make the list is Barack Obama.
And yet the president seems eager for people to know he feels aggrieved. All of sudden, he's had a few "hot mic" incidents in which he "accidentally" vented his displeasure about various alleged insults. His staff let it be known that the president feels the head of China's one-party authoritarian regime has it better than him, because no one second-guesses Hu Jintao.
"I just miss -- I miss being anonymous," he told some magazine executives recently. "I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls ... taking walks. I can't take a walk." He says the reason he plays so much golf is that it's the only way he can get away from the "bubble" he's in.
None of this is entirely new. The president has always had a gift for self-pity. And blame-shifting. "It's Bush's fault" could be the subtitle of his presidency.
And from the outset, the president has had little patience with critics. Serious critiques are always illegitimate "talking points." In the summer of '09 he started insisting that he didn't want to hear "a lot of talking" from Republicans. The time for debate always seems to over when it's clear to everyone he's losing the argument. When abroad, he loves to whine about the impertinence of the press.
I can't prove it, but I'm also hardly alone (on the right or the left) in thinking the president really just doesn't like the job anymore. He's testier. His response to the Republican budget plan was not merely dishonest, hypocritical and partisan, it was bitterly personal.
One can understand his frustration. The guy who once said to a reporter during the 2008 campaign, "You know, I actually believe my own bulls---" about fundamentally transforming America is now forced to run as a reactionary, defending "Medicare as we know it" from "radicals" who -- gasp! -- want to change America. The overrated and inexperienced politician, accustomed to nothing but adulation, who was swept into office thanks to discontent with the incumbent, is now himself the incumbent desperately trying to explain how he's done nothing wrong.
He demonized George W. Bush as an evil fool, but Obama has been forced to adopt many of the very policies he derided as evil and foolish. The "change" candidate is now the "more of the same" guy.
That'd put anybody in a funk.
But I don't care. The presidency is not like his Nobel Prize -- an award for just being you. If you hate the job, don't run.
Moreover, I don't think that's the whole story. Many of his seemingly self-pitying jokes and asides just don't seem that innocent to me, never mind endearing.
He may sincerely have wished his awesome job came with a cooler phone (or a Bat Signal perhaps?), and he may honestly feel trapped in a bubble. But he's also determined to pretend that he is running "against Washington" in 2012. And that is outrageous nonsense, for a president who effectively owned the government for two years.
Already his campaign's messaging is all about recapturing the feeling of insurgency from the first time around. Finish the mission. Complete the work. Remember the feeling. That's why he's running his re-election campaign out of Chicago, as if people won't notice he's the incumbent.
Obama has never run on a record. He's always run almost literally on a hope and a prayer. Now he must defend what he has done -- and what he has failed to do.
If that makes him cranky, that's just too bad.