Something About Obama II

March 29th, 2009

David Rothkopf is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment and a former Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration.  In Where Are the Leaders? in The Washington Post today, he discussed the lack of leadership in the Obama Administration and, more broadly, in the world.  He began:

You wake up in the morning and once again the financial weather report calls for the Apocalypse followed by brief showers of despair. Seeking a ray of hope, you turn on the television and settle in to watch a Capitol Hill hearing. There in the hot seat is the man who holds the entire U.S. economy in his hands. And he looks like Harry Potter.

Rothkopf continued:

You listen, eager for new ideas, but somehow much of what he says seems dispiritingly predictable. Is this the best America can produce? Aren’t great crises supposed to bring forth great men? Did President Obama really just compare Timothy Geithner to Alexander Hamilton? We need Roosevelt and Churchill. Even watching Obama at times, it seems that we’ve elected — despite their smarts and earnestness — a government of stumbling technocrats whose solutions either fall short or go too far. It’s enough to make you want to pull the covers back over your head. …

Gradually it becomes clear. This is not just a global economic crisis. It’s a global leadership crisis. Obama is still finding his footing, Gordon Brown is on his way out, Hugo Chavez is nuts and Wall Street management is larcenous. Isn’t there someone somewhere with decent values, a firm hand on the tiller and at least one big new idea? Where have all the leaders gone? …

But there is the president of the United States sitting in the same “Tonight Show” seat that Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan once occupied. And just ask the heads of the Big Three automakers or of the big banks who were hauled down to testify before Congress how it feels to be a captain of industry today. So it’s left to a nebbishy comic from New Jersey, the host of a fake news show, to stand in as the nation’s moral conscience and call out those responsible for the collapse of journalistic, political and economic values in America. …

Here in the United States, there is Barack Obama. At a time of great crisis, there are invested in him—as they were in Roosevelt—the hopes of a nation and of the world. He has embraced the example of Lincoln, surrounding himself with powerful, independent-minded advisers. But as we watched his news conference last week, and as we listen to Geithner’s testimonies and see the administration’s economic team in action, we have to wonder: Will they emerge as the leaders we need, with new ideas, courageous enough to shape new institutions? The record so far is mixed.

Obama has made missteps in his first two months, and we can only guess whether they are due to his learning curve or his predisposition. … Soon, we will have to judge this crew and, if they fall short, demand change yet again. … 

We get the leaders we demand and thus deserve.

Obama’s problem is his predisposition, not his learning curve.  While the U.S. economy teeters on the brink and its foreign policy is at best muddled, he’s busy being the Famous President and basking in the glow of being himself, with little time to bother with the hard, detailed work that comes with the job.  We can only hope that he wakes up one morning with a better understanding of who and what he now is.  Our future depends on it.


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3 Responses to “Something About Obama II”



  1. Kevin |

    Having been in office for less than 100 days, do you really believe that this characterization is historically accurate? It seems to me that there are more than a few parallels between Obama’s first 100 days and FDR’s first 100 days. And although the worst of it came later in his Presidency, FDR also faced strident opposition from conservatives. Of course, he had one huge advantage over Obama in that he took office as the Great Depression reached it’s lowest point and thereafter the economy improved. Whereas Obama took office as the economy continued to spiral downward.


  2. Tom |

    I don’t know that comparisons between Obama and FDR (or Lincoln, for that matter) are relevant or meaningful. Many historians and economists, looking back from an objective distance, believe that Roosevelt’s policies had the net effect of deepening and extending the Great Depression. World War II ended it, especially in regard to unemployment. I’d like to think we can solve this one without WWIII.

    While Obama yucks it up on Jay Leno and plays the role of Famous President to the crowds, Geithner sits at Treasury without most of the necessary second-level appointees and dithers around with some sort of confusing approach to dealing with the economy. In the rest of the world, Obama’s intentions and direction are vague and poorly understood, and they’re getting restless and cantankerous. We don’t have the luxury of waiting 100 days for Obama to get a grip on the reality of his job.

    A good bellwether is Congress. Here we have a liberal president with a Democratic majority in Congress, and instead of forming a powerful partnership between the two branches and leading the way to the Promised Land, Obama is busy basking in the glow of himself and appears not to know how to get to the Promised Land or even what it looks like. Congress is getting restless, and Democratic unity is getting weaker by the day. They know we have a leadership problem, both in the White House and Congress—the rest of us just haven’t figured it out yet.


  3. doris |

    I think you forgot, it took Bush 8 years to mess us up, and of course it will take years to correct this huge mess that Bush and even Clinton helped to make. You expect instant results. Instant gratification, we demand it. Come on, Tom, even the great McCain campaigned on Jay and Letterman, get with it, it’s where public opinion lives, on late nite talk. If you want them to love you, that’s where you go, new era. Obama is struggling, but so would anyone right now, a very hard place to be, the White House in these screwed up days. Give me a break! Patience, man. Although as we wait we go under, I don’t see a quick solution, do you?????


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