Will Obama try for a transformative or effective presidency?

We read in the Financial Times that President Obama has hit a crossroads in his presidency. His choice is either to surrender the notion of being a transformational president, on the order of FDR, and embrace the idea of being an effective president, on the order of Bill Clinton, or continue his slide into James Buchanan territory. Buchanan is seen by many historians as the worst president in American history.
 

But the article's slant misses two critical points, as do the Washington players quoted throughout the story. The notion that so strongly a doctrinaire president will opt to surrender his ideologically-driven agenda in favor of watered-down measures, compromises and the safe but uninspiring middle ground fundamentally misunderstands Mr. Obama. Nor does it account for the president's conceit. Mr. Obama perceives himself as a president on the order of FDR or Reagan, not Clinton or Coolidge. Mr. Obama's sense of greatness is at his core. He wants nothing less than his face on Mount Rushmore.

 

The trouble with the Washington crowd is that rather than digging deeply to grasp the real Barack Obama, they're falling back on their biases and work-a-day Washington ways. For them, politics and government are businesses: it's all about practicality and survival. If one approach doesn't work, try another. Can't accomplish anything grand? Then do the small things well. Adapt or die - in other words, adjust or lose your job, paycheck and status. Being players matter more to DC denizens than playing for something of overriding importance.

 

Mr. Obama is playing for high stakes winner-take-all poker, not the penny-ante stuff that occupies Washington's permanent political classes. To Mr. Obama's way of thinking, failing to remake America as he believes it must fundamentally be remade is the ultimate failure. He may retrench a bit here and there, trim and cut a little and take a step back to - he hopes - take two steps forward, but he won't surrender the grand purpose that gets him out of bed mornings: being a huge game-changer who becomes the stuff of legends.

 

Mr. Obama may rather join the Buchanan Club if he can't join Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts on Olympus. For men like Barack Obama, risking great defeat is the price of trying for great victory. The price for the nation may prove calamitous, as a consequence. All the more reason for a conservative bulwark in Congress in 2011.

 


We read in the Financial Times that President Obama has hit a crossroads in his presidency. His choice is either to surrender the notion of being a transformational president, on the order of FDR, and embrace the idea of being an effective president, on the order of Bill Clinton, or continue his slide into James Buchanan territory. Buchanan is seen by many historians as the worst president in American history.

 

But the article's slant misses two critical points, as do the Washington players quoted throughout the story. The notion that so strongly a doctrinaire president will opt to surrender his ideologically-driven agenda in favor of watered-down measures, compromises and the safe but uninspiring middle ground fundamentally misunderstands Mr. Obama. Nor does it account for the president's conceit. Mr. Obama perceives himself as a president on the order of FDR or Reagan, not Clinton or Coolidge. Mr. Obama's sense of greatness is at his core. He wants nothing less than his face on Mount Rushmore.

 

The trouble with the Washington crowd is that rather than digging deeply to grasp the real Barack Obama, they're falling back on their biases and work-a-day Washington ways. For them, politics and government are businesses: it's all about practicality and survival. If one approach doesn't work, try another. Can't accomplish anything grand? Then do the small things well. Adapt or die - in other words, adjust or lose your job, paycheck and status. Being players matter more to DC denizens than playing for something of overriding importance.

 

Mr. Obama is playing for high stakes winner-take-all poker, not the penny-ante stuff that occupies Washington's permanent political classes. To Mr. Obama's way of thinking, failing to remake America as he believes it must fundamentally be remade is the ultimate failure. He may retrench a bit here and there, trim and cut a little and take a step back to - he hopes - take two steps forward, but he won't surrender the grand purpose that gets him out of bed mornings: being a huge game-changer who becomes the stuff of legends.

 

Mr. Obama may rather join the Buchanan Club if he can't join Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts on Olympus. For men like Barack Obama, risking great defeat is the price of trying for great victory. The price for the nation may prove calamitous, as a consequence. All the more reason for a conservative bulwark in Congress in 2011.

 


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