Put another way, where are our flu shots? It's worth recalling that, in what seems a lifetime ago, it was Clinton — not Obama — who promised to be ready on Day One.
Even giving speeches is overrated, especially in a media universe so oversaturated that the president can't get nearly the mass audience he could just a generation ago, when there were only three networks and no Internet. The bully pulpit has become a megaphone, and not a very large one at that.
The question now is whether Obama can learn and change. It's not an easy one to answer. Yes, all presidents have to grow in office to prosper. Many of the challenges Obama faces — to say goodbye to most of his old friends or recalibrate his political antenna — have been ably surmounted by others with less talent and far less brains. But brains are overrated in the presidency: just look at the politically successful Ronald Reagan and the unsuccessful Jimmy Carter.
Besides, what Obama needs to do requires more of a psychological transformation than an intellectual one. The milestone-minded, transformative nature of his candidacy can never be replicated or matched — you can only be elected the first African-American once. He needs to come down from his mountaintop because, in this country, only the faithful appreciate a president who consistently makes us listen to him, rather than the other way around.
So far, the signs aren't good. In his quest to surpass what he's done before and reprise his role as the nation's Moses, Obama appears to be on the verge of an "historic" remake of one-sixth of the American economy, namely health care — despite the fact that a solid majority of Americans oppose the change. Whatever the merits, pushing for major societal change without bringing society along is a guarantee of prolonged strife, and is as unprecedented in its own way as his election was. It is — dare we say it? — very George W. Bush–like in its disregard of the popular will; meaning that, in the ultimate irony, history may pair these two as mirror reflections of one another.
Obama was the ideal leader to help us reach a watershed moment and cross a racial threshold. Unexpectedly for him — and for us — that was the easy part.
Steven Stark can be reached at email@example.com.