American Elephants

Trying To Understand the Puzzle of Obama by The Elephant's Child

One of the most puzzling — or at least most interesting things — about this president is the divergence of opinion about just who he is.  We have those who see him as god-like on the one hand and on the other, those who think he is deliberately trying to destroy the country.

What brought this on today is an article from Esquire, “How Can We Not Love Obama?by Stephen Marche.  At first, I thought it was a parody, but apparently it is just an advanced man-crush.  Those on the left see Obama as center left, which — since they see themselves as in the center and normal — and the rest of us as extremists, is understandable, if laughable.  On the right, people are worried about policy.

Walter Russell Mead, who is a liberal, is careful in his analysis:

Who can forget all those predictions of a ‘transformational presidency,’ hailing the one term Senator from Illinois as a new Lincoln, a new FDR, and (my personal favorite) the ‘Democratic Reagan’?Some of this was a natural pride that virtually the entire country felt at the election of our first African-American President.  Slaves helped build the Capitol building; to see a black man take the oath of office on those steps was a great historic moment — a visible sign of healing and grace. America’s first black President means something regardless of politics and party to everyone in this country and even to everyone in the world.  There was bound to be a contrast between the transcendence that the President represents and the cruel reality of ordinary politics into which he immediately and necessarily plunged.

But some of the enthusiasm was less solidly based.  Who can forget the lavish praise of the new President’s mesmerizing rhetoric?  Serious political writers seriously compared the President’s campaign addresses to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural. …

A significant chunk of the American liberal intelligentsia completely lost its head over Barack Obama.  They mistook hopes and fantasies for reality.  Worse, the disease spread to at least some members of the White House team.  An administration elected with a mandate to stabilize the country misread the political situation and came to the belief that the country wanted the kinds of serious and deep changes that liberals have wanted for decades.  It was 1933, and President Obama was the new FDR.

Peter Berkowitz, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, in an essay titled “Pragmatism, Obama Style:”

To be sure, nobody familiar with Obama’s career as a community organizer, eight years in the Illinois state senate, best-selling books, brief record in the U.S. Senate, presidential campaign speeches, behind-closed-doors crack to wealthy San Francisco donors about working-class voters who bitterly cling to their guns and religion, and unguarded remark a few weeks before the election to Joe the Plumber about his intention to “spread the wealth around” could reasonably doubt Obama’s progressive bona fides.

How to understand his postpartisan and pragmatic credentials is another matter. Little more than three months into his presidency, Obama’s claim to transcend partisan divisions stands revealed as an effort to disguise the size and scope of his progressive ambitions.

The problem is not partisanship but a deceptive form of pragmatism in which pretending to be nonpartisan is a pragmatic strategy for imposing far-reaching progressive policies on an unwary public. This pragmatism is unpragmatic because it suppresses inconvenient consequences and disrespectful of citizens because it obscures its governing principles and ultimate intentions.

Dan Henninger, deputy editor of the editorial page, wrote after the State of the Union Speech:

Barack Obama believes what he believes.  The ideas he came in with are the ideas he will go out with, and nowhere in that speech was there a fully formed policy idea reflecting authentic belief in the private economy.

Once past the Reagan moment, the Obama policy menu had three entrees: clean energy, education and infrastructure. This was lifted, almost verbatim, from the Obama budget message two months into his presidency: “Our budget will make long overdue investments in priorities—like clean energy, education, health care, and new infrastructure.” He extolled “new jobs that pay well” such as “installing solar energy panels and wind turbines.”

This isn’t a vision. It’s an obsession.

There are, of course, those like Chris Matthews who gets a tingle up his leg, and those who are sure that Obama is deliberately trying to bring down the country, and that’s not really helpful. Democrats were deeply divided towards the end of the Clinton administration, and during the Bush administration united in their seething, unreasoning hatred for Bush, which resulted in an outpouring of venom such as I have never seen.  Republicans hate Obama’s policies, not the man.

These articles all attempt to understand the man and his policies.  His policies are bringing us to a crisis point as he stormed out of a meeting that he arranged in the White House.  The spending by the federal government has become an international crisis, and it simply cannot go on.  We are on an unsustainable path, and the president simply doesn’t want to stop spending.

Here are some more serious contributions that offer insight:

A Man for All Factions” by Ross Douthat
“The Chosen One”
by Angelo M. Codevilla
Why are Students So Hateful?” by Ed Driscoll
American Narcissus” by Johnathan V. Last
America’s Ruling Class—And the Perils of Revolution” by Angelo M. Codevilla
“The Chosen One” by Angelo M. Codevilla
“Obama, Lost in Thought” by Dana Milbank

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