Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Injustice of Being President

In a recent essay, David Shribman, the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, writes that President Obama's troubles stem from "a moment of great achievement and a moment of great failure." The irony, Sbribman says, is that the achievement belongs to Obama and the failure does not. The President's situation reminds us that -- if one seeks justice, or at least a modicum of fairness -- the presidency is not the place to find it.

Obama's essential problem, Shribman says,

is not that he gets the policy wrong, as Mr. Johnson did, perhaps with the big spending Great Society, almost certainly in Vietnam. It is that in his first 17 months in office, Mr. Obama repeatedly gets the politics wrong. For if he showed anything in a bruising primary fight with Hillary Rodham Clinton and then a tough general election battle with John McCain, it was that Barack Obama had a political instinct as fine tuned as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy.

A prime example of Obama's blurred political instincts, writes Shribman, is his health care legislation. It is definitely what the nation needs. Unfortunately, "the biggest benefits of the plan will not be evident when voters go to the polls in midterm elections this November or when the President runs for re-election in 2012."

And now -- when he planned to sell his health care legislation to the American public -- the Gulf Oil Disaster has completely riveted the nation's attention. Obama didn't create the problem. He may not have understood how totally the second Bush administration had destroyed the country's regulatory infrastructure. But, as Gettysburg College's Shirley Anne Warshaw says, he and his administration "are paying the price for that right now."

The ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has become a metaphor for all that was wrong with public policy for the last thirty years. Just as the Wall Street meltdown robbed millions of ordinary folks of their livelihoods and their futures, the oil which is killing wildlife and depositing black sludge on the pristine beaches of the South is destroying a culture and a way of life.

And -- because Obama is president -- he owns the problem. With each day that the hole is not plugged, citizens lose faith in their president. Some are even suggesting that historians will compare Obama to the well meaning but ineffective Jimmy Carter.

The Carter analogy is misplaced. There is a long way to go before citizens cast their votes. Like Abraham Lincoln, Obama is enduring dark days. And, like Lincoln, Obama finds himself beset by forces which would do the nation eternal harm. The challenges he faces are most certainly tests of his intelligence and his political instincts. But, more than that, they are a test of his character.

This blog entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Zero said...

Shribman's opinion of President Obama seems overly charitable.

I think this American president is long on style, but short on substance,a short-coming which was observed in him by "Der Spiegle" when the then-aspiring candidate spoke in Berlin, attempting to capitalize on John F. Kennedy's Berlin speech given at the height of the Cold War.

"Yes, we can!" Obama urged his many supporters (which at that time included me). He implied he would establish justice in the Middle East and in Latin America, for example; reform American health care; remove US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan;create a healthier natural environment, etc. He promised he would address the issues and values which most deeply concern the average man or woman, and thereby create a new and better world - for all its peoples.

To date, he's done none of those things, and he appears a long way from addressing them except in masterful speeches.Given Obama's Democratic majority, it's a bit of a stretch to blame his failure entirely on Rush Limbaugh, or the Republicans, or on bad luck.

I was annoyed by the lukewarm review Der Spiegle gave Obama's Berlin speech.I had thought the speech was amazing! I should have known better. There can be no nation on Earth better qualified than Germany to examine the credentials and performance of charismatic leaders like Mr. Obama.
After all, they've had important experience...

We could do worse than imitate German objectivity.

Owen Gray said...

I suspect there are a lot of people who feel as you do. The American Labour Movement appears to be deeply disappointed -- and a number of progressive voices are now rising in protest.

I always felt that viewing Obama as a Messiah was a mistake -- if only because a president's agenda is set, for the most part, by forces outside his or her control. It's one's ability to take the unexpected in stride which truly makes a difference.

One can argue that, so far, Obama has not been particularly adept at handling situations. But what impressed me during the campaign was his ability to learn and make adjustments quickly.

Time will tell if I was wrong. Perhaps I am more naive than the Germans.

ChrisJ said...

I'm not sure having a good character is enough, or intelligence either. There are some very dark forces, indeed, at work in America right now.

Owen Gray said...

And there is the challenge, Chris. For a long while politicians have been elected by appealing to voters self interest.

The problems of today require that "we" acknowledge "our" problems -- and our "responsibilities" to those who come after us.