One Small Consequence of Change: Beating Up on President Obama

Three summers ago in a series of interviews I remarked that, even though I had been following the man closely for more than a year on the campaign trail, I knew only two things about Barack Obama.

He loves his daughters very much.

He intuits that like both his parents he will not make old bones.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the summer of 2008 because this was a time when most political enthusiasts believed they got the Democratic presidential nominee very well indeed.

Although 2011 has given us a summer of disunion, I suspect we all can agree that politicos and press alike are finally disabused of assumptions about our current president.

From the commentariat now:

Peggy Noonan, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. “The past few weeks I’ve asked Democrats who supported him how they feel about him.  I got back nothing that showed personal investment.  Here are the words of a hard-line progressive and wise veteran of the political wars: ‘I never loved Barack Obama. That said, among my crowd who did “love” him, I can’t think of anyone who still does.’”

Noonan closes her piece with this observation.  “He [Obama] is a loser. And this is America, where nobody loves a loser.”

Ross Douthat, in a Monday New York Times op-ed called The Diminished President. “The voters incline toward Obama on the issues, still likes [sic] him personally, and considers [sic] the Republican opposition too extreme.  But they are increasingly judging his presidency a failure anyway.”

Fouad Ajami in the Monday Wall Street Journal. “By that Reagan standard [optimism], Mr. Obama has been a singular failure. . . . The man at the helm has now played his hand.”

And now for the no-less-damning liberal view.

Paul Krugman Monday, across the Times op-ed page from Ross Douthat.  “For the [debt ceiling] deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. . . . [It is] an abject surrender on the part of the president.”

Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. “This is the lowest moment of Obama’s presidency.  It makes Bill Clinton’s signing of the welfare reform bill of 1996 look like the founding of the Peace Corps.”

Jonathan Cohn at TNR. “This Is Not Leadership.”

Joshua Green at The Atlantic. “The Invisible Shrinking President.”  James Fallows at same, is  particularly succinct.  The president has been a “pawn.”  “Captured pawn.”

No matter that Cohn and Fallows opine with more nuance below their ledes.  No matter that Tea Party leaders like Judson Phillips now rage about the win-win of “the Obamanomic Plan” and predict that the GOP “is going the way of the Whigs.”  If the fiscal conservatives have carried the day, the triumph would seem to be news to them.  Oblivious, Democrat Robert Reich holds forth, in his customary fashion, at The Huffington Post. “The radical right has now won a huge tactical and strategic victory.  Democrats and the White House have proven they have little by way of tactics or strategy.”

This has been the long, hot summer when most political liberals finally have come to understand that Barack Obama is not one of them.  If his fellow Democrats and the punditocracy had been listening to Mr. Obama in 2007-2008—heard what he was really saying and not what they wanted to hear or assumed they were hearing—the nature of Obama’s leadership would not be a revelation.

The irony here is compounded by what a student of human nature such as myself can regard only as a delicious twist:  small-government conservatives aka the Tea Party, who can be so misguided on much, nevertheless understood from the earliest days of his ascendancy a key fact about our President Obama.

He is willing to be ruthless in the wielding of power.  Small government Republicans got this about Obama from the get-go.  They knew, and they know, that Barack Obama, unlike George W. Bush—whatever Bush’s failings—is not a nice man.  And, of course, these conservatives are right that President Obama will, in some part, bring the United States that much closer to European-style twenty-first century socialism.  We have already taken our first step, through the health care reform act, however the specifics here may be changed over time.

Obama’s is a kind of leadership with which we have little experience, recently.  His long game—whatever that may be—is one we cannot comprehend in the terms we best grasp:  Democrat versus Republican, liberal versus conservative, secular versus faith-based.  Although Mr. Obama—highly intelligent, I think we all agree—can think in such a way, can use polarity as part of strategy, nevertheless he chooses not to when he has his eye on . . . what shall I call it? . . . history and destiny.  His is a world view that is bewildering to the liberals among his peers, whose honed ironies and skepticisms he does not share.  He terrifies beyond-the-beltway conservatives, because they also believe in destiny.  This shared sense of the shaping power of larger forces lies at the heart of the Tea Party’s hatred and fear of President Obama.

Over the next two weeks, I will try to explain the few things I have come to know about Obama and their implications.  For legislation.  For the economy.  For world affairs.  For the presidency.  I will try to show where assumptions have led astray influential politicos in their current assessments.







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