"It is a great advantage to a president and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man."
-- Calvin Coolidge
Energetic in body but indolent in mind, Barack Obama in his frenetic final campaigning for a second term is promising to replicate his first term, although apologizing would be appropriate. His bilious tone -- scurrilities about Mitt Romney as a monster of, at best, callous indifference; adolescent japes about "Romnesia" -- is less elevated than might have been expected from someone who has favorably compared his achievements to those of "any president," with the "possible" exceptions of Lincoln, LBJ and FDR. Obama's oceanic self-esteem -- no deficit there -- may explain why he seems to smolder with resentment that he must actually ask for a second term.
Two economic themes of Obama's campaign have been that outsourcing jobs is sinful, and that he saved GM, which assembles 70 percent of its vehicles on lines outside America. He also knows that buying an iPhone involves outsourcing to China the jobs of assembling it. Although his campaign slogan is "Forward!" he evidently wants America to compete with China in the manufacture of T-shirts and toasters. His third theme -- that he will "invest in" (spend on) this and that -- has been inaudible amid the clatter of crashing companies he has invested in.
'Tis said two things not worth running after are a bus or an economic panacea,
Four years ago, Obama said he would slow the oceans' rise but this year has not sought a mandate to cope with -- he has barely mentioned -- the supposedly onrushing calamity of climate change.
All politicians are to some extent salesmen. But Obama, having devalued the coin of presidential rhetoric by the promiscuous production of it, increasingly resembles a particular salesman, Arthur Miller's Willy Loman:
"For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back -- that's an earthquake."
Why the empty stridency of the last days of Obama's last campaign? Perhaps he feels an earthquake's first tremors.
George Will is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.