Great Expectations

Posted on May 28, 2010 by

Barack Obama is a great guy.  Unfortunately, he’s not a great man.  Or, I’m afraid, a great president.

I’m not going to pile on the criticism he’s been getting for his handling of the oil spill.  But I think this episode confirms that, though he might be competent running the federal government, he isn’t particularly adroit at leading the nation through crisis.

It seems to me he lacks the gut political instincts of Bill Clinton or – forgive me – Ronald Reagan.

His deliberative decision-making leaves him vulnerable to attacks from opponents and allies.  He lets events and circumstances get the better of him.

I’ve been telling friends lately that there isn’t much we can do about this.  It’s not a matter, for example, of “pressuring him from the left” or the need to replace white house staff.

This is who Barack Obama is:

Smart, charming, quite capable but just a little beneath the job.

We all recognize the problem.  Who hasn’t seen very talented and committed people who fall short when faced with big responsibilities: whether it’s running a business, a city department, a union or a nonprofit.

I believe in Obama (to a point).  I’m getting comfortable with his limitations (not really).  And he’s growing into the role (hurry up, already!).

And yes he’s a breath of fresh air (compared to you-know-who) and a fantastic human being.

But he’s just not what we were hoping for.

Comments (5)


  1. Joe Uehlein says:

    I’ve been saying for over a year now that Obama should be appointed to head the Federal mediation and Conciliation Service. He is likely to only serve one term as Prez, so he can still be appointed to the FMCS post.

  2. Toby Higbie says:

    If our expectations were overblown, maybe it isn’t Obama’s fault but our own? After 8 years of Bush’s imperialistic presidency, I would rather have someone who does not claim to be “the decider” on all issues.

    I don’t think it is the President’s role to lead on every single issue. It is his role to clear a path so people down below can organize and push. Without the push from below there is only so much good he can do.

    Too early to say whether he’ll be one term. Who among the potential Republicans would have a chance?

  3. Michael says:

    The problem is that Obama is simply another in a long line of “electables,” men who are shiny and impressive enough in a campaign to get elected but after that prove to have no particular agenda except a desire to serve out their terms. I wouldn’t expect anything dynamic out of this President any more than out of Clinton. As a unionist you might think I’d wish for something positive in the way of labor law reform, but the truth is that labor as a national entity doesn’t merit any special treatment: we’re only here to keep putting non-Republicans into office. After the Democrat of the day gets in, we are simply to fade out, grateful that it wasn’t something worse. Obama didn’t spill any oil, but then he didn’t have any intention of dealing with EFCA one way or the other, or inspiring anybody in the Congress to push the issue ahead of others either. A more important issue might have been reform of law so that 401Ks don’t vanish overnight–that would certainly help working people–but you will see that when snow makes sparks.

  4. Greg says:

    I am also frustrated with his “growing into the job” the president is elected to lead. He needs to make the choice and stand by it. Most of our leaders lately take polls and listen to advisers before ever making a move, for fear of stepping on their political d**ks. His time is to move along the labor agenda is quickly closing. The mid-terms may slam the door shut. Labor backed this “electable”, President Obama needs to fulfill his promises to Labor and the Teamsters. E.F.C.A. for all of Labor and remove the consent decree from the Teamsters. We have spent 100′s of millions of dollars to show the US Government the Teamsters are a clean democratically run labor organization. End oversight now

  5. Methinks your post is aptly titled “Great Expectations,” but I disagree with your conclusions.

    Your use of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan as examples of presidents who rose to the occasion, so to speak, is a bit unfair. Clinton, you’ll recall, was widely unpopular in the beginning of his presidency which didn’t end so well–he was impeached. I think his impeachment will long be remembered as the most ludicrous thing this country has ever done; nevertheless, it reflects the success of the right wing machine to overcome even the most competent presidents.

    Reagan certainly looked the part, and played the part well, but what does one expect—he was an actor, for cripe’s sake. The scary part is, when he said “I don’t recall,” we now know he meant it. The question is, how much did he recall?

    I think the problem is that everybody read what they wanted to read into the Obama candidacy, and are now disillusioned when they had no business having illusions in the first place. Get up off the couch, people, and start focusing on the things Obama needs to be reminded about starting with working people, working poor, and hungry. If we want the wars to end, we have the power to end them by making it clear to members of Congress that we will vote out anyone who approves war funding.

    It’s our game, and we’re the ones who need to learn how to play better

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