Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Obama Is Doing It His Way

Barack Obama has a huge ego. This is not a unique condition for someone who has been elected president of the United States. Even men and women who have not been elected president have huge egos. He also has concluded, I believe, that he is a political genius. I remember that midway in the 2008 primary/caucus season, when his campaign was faltering, Obama personally rallied his staff. This in itself was commendable; presidential hopefuls like Rudy Giuliani and (now-disgraced) John Edwards also faltered, but were so above the battle, they failed to try to intervene when their political fortunes went south. Obama had a great deal of outside help, much of it from the savvy folks who make up the Chicago Democratic machine, but like so many who reach high office, I think Mr. Obama has come to believe he is the true source of his own (and for now, unquestionable) electoral success.

He came into the office of president, however, with very little political and executive experience, probably less than anyone in the Oval Office for the past century. He gathered around him friends and foes, but his innermost circle includes mostly friends (a totally understandable and common phenomenon). It was thought that some of those friends would give the new president good advice. If they did, he has not seemed to be listening. He seems to be listening to himself.

To his critics, of which I am one, he has made numerous mistakes in domestic and foreign policy, and has constantly exhibited his inexperience. Most of these critics find his rhetoric pedestrian, and his political instincts inept. These critics also find his dealings with foreign leaders and nations to be dangerously naive at best.

His supporters see Mr. Obama quite differently. They consider the legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by Mr. Obama to be significant and positive “change.” They hear his speeches as “eloquent.” They agree with and applaud much of his point of view, including his foreign policies.

But many of these supporters are now not so sure about his political instincts. They note that most of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid legislation is unpopular, causing the president’s popularity to nosedive, and endangering Democratic control of both houses of Congress. They observe his “tin ear” as he espouses provocative views about building a mosque at Ground Zero in New York and opposing the clear views of Arizonians on immigration. As the midterm elections approach (now less than 3 months away) more and more senators and members of Congress are distancing themselves from Mr. Obama and his administration.

Mr. Obama himself seems unmoved by his sudden unpopular trend in his ownvparty, the loss of support of many independents who voted for him in 2008, and of course the criticism of him coming from Republicans and conservatives.

Some glib analysts have suggested Mr. Obama and his coterie want to lose the 2010 elections so that they can run against Republicans in 2012. But most observers have concluded that he is simply naive and self-deluded, and is a true believer in his own world-view (whatever that is), and is willing to lose in 2012 to promote that world view.

While I do think Barack Obama is misinformed by his own lack of political and executive experience, I am beginning to conclude that he is not as politically clumsy and clueless as his actions so far would indicate.

Right or wrong, I suspect that President Obama thinks his agenda and political strategy, now faltering in opinion polls, will be redeemed by events. I suspect
that he believes his treatment of the leaders of Iran, Russia, North Korea and Venezuela (most of whom now scorn him in private) will produce diplomatic triumph. I suspect that he believes his understanding of the economy will produce a notable if not dramatic turnaround before 2012. I suspect he believes he can satisfy the far left of his political base while at the same time appearing to be a “mainstream liberal” to the rest of the Democratic Party base as well as most independent voters.

As readers know, I do not share his beliefs above, but I think we have to understand his actions, not as intentionally politically suicidal, but as behavior which anticipates results that will be dramatically different than his critics predict.

So Mr. Obama is a kind of radical “contrarian.” The Prairie Editor, as readers know, is also a contrarian, but he anticipates contrarian results and outcomes of a very different kind.

My conclusion is that Barack Obama is the first political “sleepwalker” American president. He lives and acts in his dreams, dreams formed here and in his childhood outside the mainland U.S.. There is always the chance that he is more right than wrong, but all of us will know whether he is or not, as economic, political and international events continue to unfold.

This, almost certainly, will wake us all up.

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