Saturday, June 09, 2012

Historians Already Judging Obama Harshly

When one of the historians brought up the difficulties that Lyndon Johnson, another wartime president, faced trying to wage a foreign military venture while implementing an ambitious domestic agenda, Mr. Obama grew testy. He implied that he was different, because he could prevail by the force of his personality. He could solve the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, put millions of people back to work, redistribute wealth, withdraw from Iraq, and reconcile the United States to a less dominant role in the world.

It was, by any measure, a breathtaking display of grandiosity by a man whose entire political curriculum vitae consisted of seven undistinguished years in the Illinois senate and two mostly absent years in the United States Senate. That evening Mr. Obama revealed the characteristics—arrogance, conceit, egotism, vanity, hubris and, above all, rank amateurism—that would mark his presidency and doom it to frustration and failure.

These characteristics had already set the pattern of his administration. Mr. Obama personally conducted his own foreign policy more than any president since Richard Nixon. He made all the decisions, because he believed that only he truly understood the issues. He spent his evenings writing decision papers on foreign affairs when, instead, he should have delegated that chore to experts and devoted his time to schmoozing members of Congress and convincing them to support his programs. He still loved making speeches to large, adoring crowds, but he complained to foreign leaders on the QT that he had to waste precious hours talking with “Congressmen from Palookaville.” 
The senior people in his administration proved to be just as inexperienced and inept as Mr. Obama when it came to the business of running the government. Members of his inner circle—David Axelrod, campaign manager David Plouffe, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and éminence grise Valerie Jarrett—had proven their mettle in the dark arts of political campaigning, but they had no serious experience in dealing with public-policy issues. If they could be said to have any policy exposure at all it was their ideological enthusiasms for the left. 

Over the two-hour dinner, Mr. Obama and the historians discussed several past presidents. It wasn’t clear from Mr. Obama’s responses which of those presidents he identified with. At one point, he seemed to channel the charismatic John F. Kennedy. At another moment, he extolled the virtues of the “transformative” Ronald Reagan. Then again, it was the saintly Lincoln…or the New Deal’s “Happy Warrior,” Franklin Roosevelt….

Mr. Obama told the historians that he had come up with a slogan for his administration. “I’m thinking of calling it ‘A New Foundation,’ ” he said.

Doris Kearns Goodwin suggested that “A New Foundation” might not be the wisest choice for a motto. 

“Why not?” the president asked.

“It sounds,” said Goodwin, “like a woman’s girdle.”


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