By Michael Goodwin
First I did a double take. He said what? I read it again and the shock waves followed.
A beleaguered President Obama has told aides it would be so much easier to be the president of China, The New York Times reports.
There are two ways to read the remark, which is attributed to anonymous aides. One is that Obama resents the burden of global leadership that comes with the American presidency. The other is that he longs for an authoritarian system, where he need tolerate no dissent.
Under either or both interpretations, his confession carries a dose of self-pity that means Obama has hit a wall.
He is in over his head, and he knows it.
Even before the horror in Japan, the president faced a litany of nightmares. From Libya to Iran to Afghanistan to gas prices, unemployment and rising debt, Obama is surrounded by serious trouble.
His responses range from halfhearted to wrongheaded. Nothing is working. Unhappy voters already repudiated his first two years and might fire him when they get the chance. It is a moment that brings home the truth of the sign on Harry Truman's desk: "The buck stops here."
Yet my suspicion is that it's not the problems per se that have Obama envying a lower rung on the global ladder. It's that he regards them as endless distractions that keep getting in the way of his transformative agenda.
He is a man of the faculty lounge who wants a blank slate so he can remake the nation into a more perfect place, as he sees it. Remember, he greeted his election with the messiah-like claim that future generations would say, "This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
But damn it, the country and the world won't cooperate. Because he has no significant experience that would give him a framework for any other response, he is reduced to vaporous platitudes that dispirit allies and embolden adversaries.
He wants America to be less exceptional and more like every other nation. He's uncomfortable with our status as the No. 1 superpower, as he made clear with his apology tours and by submitting to the lowest common denominator in the United Nations.
He talks about wanting Moammar Khadafy to go but takes no action to make it happen and even signed on to an arms embargo that the State Department says bars our supplying the rebels.
As The Wall Street Journal wrote, the rising slaughter reveals "what the world without U.S. leadership looks like."
Meanwhile, he punts on the budget mess, as if details are beneath him. On soaring gas prices, the purpose of his dreary Friday press conference, his policy seems to be peevishness that he must be bothered.
As shocking as the China lament is, it's not surprising. The desire to sidestep messy reality is the thread that runs through his presidency, starting with the campaign.
As the economy melted down in the fall of 2008 and in the days after he took office, he never changed goals. He promised a health-care takeover, "investments" in education, and a commitment to weaning America off oil and coal.
Come recession and war, he has done his utmost to deliver all three. He has broken the bank and damaged the jobs machine to get them.
Under different circumstances, that dogged persistence might be a virtue. But the problems are getting worse, not better, and yet he won't adapt. His stubborn refusal to face squarely the nation's concerns has created a vacuum at home similar to the one abroad.
And now he confides the Oval Office's crown of responsibility does not fit him. Much of the world shares the sentiment.
Michael Goodwin is a New York Post columnist.
I think we should start Obama on his way to China... in 2012.