President Obama ran on “hope” and “change.” He has delivered so far as we see it, on neither so far as the country is concerned, yet it seems to us that he has greatly changed the American Presidency.That is no small thing.
We will not know until his successor takes office whether the changes are permanent. But for now, they are real enough and so, worthy of discussion. So what changes do we see?
He appears to prefer the road and the golf course to the White House. He is happier by all appearances, in public than at home. He would rather speak to TV cameras or some gathering than to his intimates, if he has any. He must be the most public President of all time and the most voluble in public. His presidency seems a continuation of campaigning rather than abandoning campaigning for presiding over the nation.
But he does not, as some of his predecessors have done, lead from the “bully pulpit.” He appears not to understand leadership; he prefers to rule as though he was the embodiment of American sovereignty rather than its agent. He declaims constantly but he seldom explains much. We are to do as he says, not ask questions. And we can keep our doctors.
A leader makes a show for his followers, glancing back from time to time to verify their continued presence. Barack Obama issues orders that apply to us and disregards them for himself, the antithesis of leadership. In history, the opulent lives of kings in hard times have often enough, cost them their heads. Our President seems to have missed those classes in his history courses at the universities that reuse to provide his attendance information, a rather unique resume’ for one of his prominence and evidence of the faith placed in him by voters.
For all his publicity-hound behavior, he does little in his public conduct to embody leadership of public affairs, rather ignoring any relationship between his actions and the course of the nation. Some huge calamity appears; he plays golf. Everyone is broke and out of work, he throws parties and engages in hugely costly excursions and vacations. He lives in his own world, above the vicissitudes of mere mortals and feels no need to make an example of himself; giving orders ought to be enough. He reigns and rules; he does not lead.
On all appearances, his missteps and negligences have been no worse than many others in his position, yet he has fallen far in public esteem compared to many of them. We attribute that in large part to his tone-deafness toward leadership. Americans will put up with much when others seem to understand and share difficulties; they resent a publicly superior attitude. We don’t think Barack Obama feels consciously superior so much as he doesn’t feel anything in this particular direction. However it may be, he is paying the price for his blind spot; his political influence is in decline, leaving him with executive orders to his minions with which to run the country.
Another opportunity he has wasted is leadership of American blacks. He is not really black at one Luo grandmother and rather than standing up as a representative of what a black American can be, he has embodied a bad caricature of black behavior while pandering to the black electorate in what is to us, a very patronizing manner.
Barack Obama asked for and was handed a signal opportunity: An economic crisis, desperate foreign relations, a divided society, a compliant Congress and voters primed for progress. He has ignored the challenge in favor of doing as he pleases while politically exploiting the citizens instead of presiding over the country as his oath of office requires.
He acts as though the Presidency were some sort of reward for his personal qualities rather than the crushing responsibility that is recognized by men with better vision and a greater sense of responsibility. His Nobel Peace Prize acceptance proved an unfortunate archetype for his entire presidency to date; an unearned award based upon a hoped-for performance that has not appeared.
In fairness, the American Presidency is an impossible job, one that has been bigger than many of its incumbents before Barack Obama. But most of them have at least acted as though they cared …