I can admit mistakes and misjudgments. Obama is one of them. But I do not suffer from buyer’s remorse. When I imagine a McCain/Palin presidency and administration, I envision one of two scenarios: pandemonium or apocalypse, each attended by moral and political meltdown.
My support of Obama during the presidential campaign praised his “unflappable demeanor, sound judgment, informed intellect, and articulate speech.” I added that “Obama exerts influence like a leader with common-sense policies.” I interpreted these characteristics as indicators of leadership. I was wrong. They are necessary features of a leader but are not sufficient to make a leader. A leader is not someone having a position of leadership or the characteristics of a leader, but behaving like one by making, explaining, executing, and enforcing decisions based on sound reasoning and pursued with steady determination.
I assumed that what a highly educated, legally trained, but street-smart candidate would do in office would reflect his experience at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum and bear some relationship to his “common-sense policies.” I know that many candidates, once elected to office, cannot do everything which they promised to do on the campaign trail. No number of campaign briefings can prepare them for the realities of their positions, with its many limits on their power. Even so, Obama is disappointing.
Obama’s first and biggest mistake has been to lose touch with those who elected him, the members of the middle and lower classes, regardless of their party identification, because they thought that he understood them. An omen: he and his family vacationed with the elites in Martha’s Vineyard, not average citizens in Disney World. No longer does he concern himself with those whom he addressed during his campaign, and they know it. Winning back their trust and support is not likely.
Once a social organizer in the streets, Obama has shown the out-of-touch perspective and adopted the trickle-down approach of the moneyed class which bankrolls American politics. Not only did he save the too-big-too-fail banks before he served the people, but he also saved the wrong banks. His trillion-dollar stimulus package rewarded the very financial institutions which got us into this mess by shuffling paper in Ponzi schemes but which do not invest in businesses providing products and services. He touts a recovery because the financial markets are bullish although the economy remains bearish for just about everyone else, regardless of their employment status.
If Obama had had a citizen’s eye view of the economy, he would have urged a smarter socio-economical stimulus to distribute the same trillion dollars to every taxpayer and dependent. People could have put that $3500 per person to use for necessities, health care, education, mortgages, credit cards—in a word, put money into circulation and help ordinary citizens. The too-big-too-fail banks would have gotten money eventually; more importantly, the smaller banks which make local and regional loans in support of local and regional economies would have gotten money almost immediately.
Obama’s second biggest mistake has been to substitute process for results. There is some, but not all, merit in bipartisanship and in tolerance of people with differences of opinion. But his unwavering commitment to them, in denial of the fact that they are not working, suggests a compulsive desire to operate by committee, avoid controversy, and duck responsibility for decisive action. Thus, this commitment covers his outsider’s desire for approval and popularity at the expense of principle and accomplishment; it also camouflages his weakness because of these vulnerabilities. Everyone now knows that he can be pushed around or rolled; that he lacks the temperament, the executive grit, which accepts the ned to make decisions, however occasionally or reluctantly, which make enemies in order to get something accomplished in Washington.
Obama’s third biggest mistake has been adulterating or abandoning the positions which appealed to many people during his campaign. Not everyone agrees with all of his positions, even those who voted for him, but he probably has majorities or near majorities on most of them: health reform, education reform, global warming, campaign and government reform, reduction of forces in Iraq, renewed commitment to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, shutting Guantanamo, cleaning up executive branch agencies for misconduct, among others. But he is doing little enough on any of these issues.
Most new presidents commit to action, get results, and build political capital by their early accomplishments. Not Obama; he has squandered his opportunities and has almost nothing to show for his presidency after nine months. The first “Hundred Days” metric is not fair, but a 270-days metric is. Now, with less support and diminished respect, Obama is going to find that the going is going to get tougher. He has impressed no one because of large but largely symbolic cuts in over-sized bank executive compensation. He has impressed no one with his attacks on talk-radio hosts; indeed, he has shown himself to be petty and insecure. He has impressed no one, least of all members of his party who find him detached from the debate, on health care reform, perhaps his most ballyhooed cause. If Congress passes any such legislation, however flawed or ineffectual, Obama will sign it, make a speech, and take credit at a photo op. But he will fool no one.
Obama is making himself toast. Faced with little done and much to do, Obama has talked with arrogant self-confidence about what he must defer in his first term but will get accomplished in his second term. But with little or nothing to show for his speechifying and spectatorizing presidency, the chances of his credible campaign and re-election are small. Fortunately, many Democrats can competently challenge their failed president in 2012, and do better against any Republican, who would prefer to run against Obama. No-drama Obama indeed; his one-term presidency will end, not with a bang, but a whimper.