Has Obama peaked? Yes, he has

By STEVEN STARK  |  November 12, 2009

Rookie mistakes
This isn't to say that Obama hasn't also made the understandable mistakes that rookies always commit. Like most who are new to the big leagues, Obama hasn't spent enough time in public life to befriend the right people. As a result, he relies too heavily on the folks who got him where he is — whether from the campaign or Chicago — when he really needs advisors who see the world differently than he does, and are willing tell him what he doesn't want to hear.

In terms of practical leadership, then, Obama has let Congress take the lead (which, if he were an effective leader, he wouldn't allow to happen), even though its approval ratings are some 30 points below his. Worse, when it comes to finding "experts" to solve our national crises, he has relied on all the usual, conventional suspects, such as Tim Geithner and Larry Summers — even though they're the sort of people who helped get us into this economic mess in the first place. Having bought into a solution to the financial crisis that centered around bailing out Wall Street — essentially a continuation of the Bush policy, despite what the Tea Partiers think — he's left himself open to a populist insurgency that poses the biggest threat to his political success. It's no surprise that Main Street no longer trusts Obama— it never will.

Another rookie mistake of Obama's is his belief that, in order to wrest control back from adversity, he must repeat what he did as a successful candidate. In his case, that means making endless public appearances, delivering the same speeches, and attacking his political enemies with the talking points of the day. But Obama isn't in Kansas or anymore. Or, more to the point, Illinois.

Put simply, Obama has misread his mandate. Perhaps he thought he was elevated to pass health care — they loved it in Iowa! — but in fact it was the economic crisis that got him elected, is now our national preoccupation, and will be the solution of which (or lack of one) that determines whether he's re-elected.

Obama seems to have forgotten all the stuff he proclaimed in the campaign about a new type of non-divisive presidency, even though that promise of bipartisanship was the facet of his candidacy that appealed the most to independents. Of course, the Republicans have made bipartisanship difficult. But he was the one in the campaign who claimed he could deal in a new way with those across the aisle — in contrast with his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, who once called that opposition "the vast right-wing conspiracy."

Obama further miscalculated what a president actually does and is expected to do in a constitutionally weak office. When it comes to the economy in an interdependent world, there's not a whole lot under his office's control.

Now that we, as a nation, have awakened from our post-election, post-racial dream state, we've begun to notice that our president may not be much interested in being a chief "executive," given that he's never run anything before or expressed the slightest inclination to do so. He has big ideas, to be sure, but that's only a small part of the job. The hard, nitty-gritty labor of figuring out how government can actually work better — the operative word is "governing" — seems to hold no appeal for him.

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