What is wrong with this president? It is, as Hammerstein wrote in “The King and I,” a puzzlement.
He came to office with such promise. Even those of us who opposed him expected more, and wanted him to succeed. Yet, a year later, there is profound disappointment. True, some of the griping is on the Zoloft left of American politics, the chic crowd that thinks the president has gone moderate. These people can be dismissed easily, as they represent a part of America that can meet in a large walk-in closet.
But for the majority, disillusionment has also set in. The president still has the support of his party, but he has virtually none among Republicans. His greatest disaster is seen among independents, where his support has collapsed. The number who have abandoned him equals or exceeds, in most polls, his margin of victory in 2008. Unless he can rebuild, he will soon be seeking private housing.
First, the president’s ego is out of control. I have never seen a president so completely devoted to a belief in himself. Franklin Roosevelt conceded that he wouldn’t make a hit every time he came to bat. Obama thinks he’s batting 1,000, and that it’s others who are striking out.
Second, the president has revealed himself to be the leftist we said he was, and that the media denied he’d ever be. He has not governed from center-left, but from the solid left. But that’s not where Americans are. Mr. Obama perhaps believes his golden voice can overcome American opinion, but he might recall the example, once again of FDR, who tried to pack the Supreme Court with additional justices after winning a landslide victory in the 1936 election. The public slapped him down, big time.
Third, and perhaps most important, Mr. Obama has little understanding of the office. It is, first and foremost, an executive office, not a legislative one. Only one modern president has successfully legislated from the White House, and that was Lyndon Johnson, who had been a consummate legislator as Senate majority leader. The president has dragged himself down with a legislative program that has eluded his skills, and left his control. He simply doesn’t know how to manage it. He spent little time in the United States Senate, and most of it was devoted to running for a higher office. In the handling of the health-care bill, he has seemed almost helpless. His skill set in managing his administration’s legislative program shows no sign of expanding.
Mr. Obama undoubtedly wants to be remembered as a great president. He doesn’t see himself as anything less than great. His supporters, those youngsters who form the human wave in the massive crowds, have helped him nurture this illusion. But great presidents tend to be remembered for one or two great things. George Washington formed the presidency in a way that let it function without becoming a monarchy. Abraham Lincoln saved the union. And returning again to Franklin Roosevelt, he led the nation through the largest conflict in history. Ronald Reagan restored a fading American greatness.
This president seems to see his role as diminishing America, the first president to see it that way. And instead of pursuing one or two great themes, he presents us with a laundry list, a good part of it anathema to most Americans.
Roosevelt said, after Pearl Harbor, that he’d gone from being Doctor New Deal to becoming Doctor Win the War. He understood that the American people expected that one great thing. He didn’t feel that he was chosen to create an entirely new nation from the innards of his imagination.
Barack Obama argues that he was elected to transform the whole country. I don’t recall such an election. Do you?
The list of great American presidents is short. We will not be adding another name soon.
FROM URGENT AGENDA (WWW.URGENTAGENDA.COM)
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here