Hoping to be Liked: A Radically Condensed History of the Obama Presidency

When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.

The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.

–“A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life,” from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

During his now-infamous Oval Office interview with Bloomberg Businessweek Obama named FedEx CEO Frederick Smith as one of his favorite business executives. Smith is an unlikely choice to say the least. He raised more than $100,000 for the McCain campaign and was co-chair of his finance committee. He is also “fiendishly anti-union,” in the words of Doug Henwood; he has been engaged in a long-running battle with the labor movement over allowing the company’s workers (who are classified as independent contractors) to unionize. Unions were key allies of Obama during his presidential campaign.

I couldn’t help but think of the above story, by the late David Foster Wallace, when I heard this news. The president is exceedingly anxious to be liked by the rich and powerful and to “preserve good relations” within his class, at almost any cost. As a result, it is next to impossible to discern what Obama stands for. This is the presidency of “One never knew, now did one now did one now did one” — in which orienting substance is lost in an unending quest for future cordiality.

Naturally, the Bloomberg article ends with an Obama witticism, directed at Mr. Smith.