Three Profiles of Barack Obama

The three pieces below that I have pulled from are analyses of the man Barack Obama, his presidency, and answers to the questions so many backers are asking: what went wrong?  The authors of these pieces, in order, are Scott Wilson from the Washington Post, Jonah Goldberg from National Review Online, and Noemie Emery from The Weekly Standard.  There are some opinions infused in these pieces, there is some recitation of facts via straight reporting, and there are some interviews with those on the scene that documented what was happening and what went wrong.

1)Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, President Barack Obama has a problem: people.

This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, and refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.

Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise.

Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work.

2)“He likes politics,” said a Washington veteran who supports Obama, “but like a campaign manager likes politics, not a candidate.” The former draws energy from science and strategy, the latter from contact with people.

Which raises an odd question: Is it possible to be America’s most popular politician and not be very good at American politics?

In the first two years, the phrase I heard most often in the White House was “Good policy makes for good politics.” Even then, the principle seemed based on a naive reading of a hyperpartisan capital.

3) In an interview with the writer Ron Suskind, this year, Obama even described his policy-wonk predilections as a “disease,” identifying with Democratic former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

But Clinton was famous for his on-the-sleeve empathy and moveable feast of friends who were particularly useful during the most difficult moments of his presidency. His wonkiness was offset by his personal touch.

And Carter, well, he served a single term.


Where’s the proof that Obama is a master of public policy? To be sure there’s ample proof that he’s a master at talking about public policy, describing the problems, summarizing the current thinking, regurgitating all of the reigning clichés and platitudes. But where’s the evidence that he’s actually good at public policy?

It’s a sincere question: What have been the truly innovative, groundbreaking or even unconventional big public policy ideas to come out of this administration? Are there any? Because from where I sit, it simply looks like Obama takes existing, conventional, liberal ideas – some of them very, very old – off the liberal pantry shelf and hawks them like it’s new inventory. Where’s the evidence that Obama’s “mastery” over public policy has translated itself into creative approaches? Not in the stimulus from what I can tell. Maybe there’s something impressive to tout in ObamaCare, but Obama didn’t actually have much to do with the crafting of ObamaCare – a fact (Washington Post reporter Scott) Wilson acknowledges (in his piece). Was his genius to be found in shoveling cash into Solyndra and other embarrassing white elephants? Was he the guiding intellect behind a green jobs program that has produced dozens of jobs in places where it was supposed to create thousands?

And if he’s such a genius about public policy, why did it take him so long to discover that there’s no such thing as “shovel ready jobs”? You don’t have to be a Jedi Master of public policy to have known that.

Heck, if he’s spent so much time focusing on getting the policies right, why are things so bad? Why are they so much worse than he predicted? Why did it take him so long figuring out reality was sharply veering from his assumptions?

Here’s a thought: Maybe Obama is just a big fan of public policy the way I’m a big fan of movies? I can talk about movies all day long. I can discuss camera work, acting, story, directing etc. with some fluency. I can even talk about how movies are financed and the role of foreign markets. But you know what? I don’t have a frickn’ clue how to make a Hollywood movie (and I’ve actually made some documentaries).

Maybe Obama’s not a public policy Scorsese. Maybe he’s, at best, the Roger Ebert of policymaking – or more likely, just a policy buff.  (Author’s note: the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert is known to be a great critic of movies, but it is thought that he may have written a screenplay for one of the worst movies of all time, the sequel to “Valley of the Dolls” called “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”.)


1) Great presidents (Roosevelt and Reagan) transform their times; good presidents (Eisenhower and Kennedy) understand them almost without trying; bad presidents (Buchanan and Carter) are overwhelmed by them. Obama is the first who has tried to defy them. This cannot, and will not, end well.

2) Until Obama, no one imagined that a president should try to pass a huge, complex, costly bill (Obamacare) that affected everyone in the country not only without enjoying broad support, but while facing an enraged, energized, and broad coalition against it.

3) What went wrong in the first place (of the Obama presidency) was that too much went right.  He never was able to learn from adversity, as he never saw any—

(Author’s note: The following is a brief run through of Barack Obama’s political career: Barack Obama’s state Senate opponents had their voting petition signatures invalidated, including the seat’s incumbent Alice Palmer.  In Obama’s Democrat primary run for a seat in the federal Senate, court sealed documents were unsealed (by media pressure) on Democrat candidate Blair Hull.  The unsealed documents showed a protection order issued by Hull’s wife against Hull, and it included allegations of threats and abuse.  Something similar happened during Obama’s general election run for the Senate, months later, in which court sealed documents were unsealed (by media pressure, surprised?!) to reveal allegations candidate Jack Ryan’s attempts to get his “unwilling” Hollywood wife Jeri Ryan to have public sex in New York and Paris.  Then, finally, there was the September 2008 financial collapse that ruined John McCain in his run for the presidency.  (McCain was ahead in the polls at the time of the collapse.)

—In the course of these runs, Obama never learned to build and maintain coalitions; they simply assembled around him. He never argued people around from different positions, he simply inspired them to vague aspirations. He never passed laws, much less tried to enforce them. His idea of leading was making a speech. Miraculous things seemed to happen around him: In his breakout run that made him a national figure, he faced opposition from candidates who were sidelined by scandals before he could face them. In the Democrats’ primaries, he emerged as the candidate from academia and of the liberal white upper classes, a tranche often doomed by its want of appeal to minorities. As a black academic, he won nonwhites over, and his coalition formed by itself. His governing theory was that he would make speeches and win people over; then Nancy Pelosi would twist arms, or break them. That worked for a while, until Pelosi lost power, and so did his speeches. As a result he now seems to have run out of options, and strategies. There was, it appears, no plan B.

4) On Obamacare: “-As for people not caring about the mechanics of passage, it turned out people cared. A Gallup poll showed that all adults, Republicans, and—crucially—independent voters considered the passage of the bill an “abuse of power” by margins of 53-40, 86-11, and 53-36. As lifelong Democrat, Pat Caddell would say later, “Because of the way it was passed, as a crime against democracy, the country has simply not accepted it.” The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto added, “There is no precedent for a massive, unpopular expansion of the welfare state that has support only within one party. It’s possible that Americans would grudgingly come to accept it. .  .  . It’s also possible that they would hate it even more. .  .  . Obama and Pelosi not only are trifling with their party’s short-term prospects, but are putting at risk its long term viability.”

5) Other presidents have failed by doing too little or nothing; Obama is the first to do himself in through hyperactivity. For a success, he is surely a failed politician. But then, what made him a success?



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