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Has Obama Learned Anything?

Imagine you’re in the Obama White House, and this is what you face. Democrats lose a special election in a congressional district they have controlled since the 1920s and which was framed as a referendum on the president. There’s a possible scandal brewing over the White House’s effort to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion dollar loan to a solar-panel manufacturer, Solyndra. The most recent Census Report shows median household earnings fell for the third consecutive year, back to 1996 levels. A record number of Americans are in poverty. In Afghanistan, the Taliban mounted a fierce assault on the U.S. embassy and NATO military headquarters in Kabul. A new CNN/ORC poll shows Obama’s disapproval rating has reached a new high while the number of Americans who think he is a strong leader has dropped to a new low. And that’s just today.

On a human level, one can sympathize with what the president, his advisers, and his supporters are going through right now. But there is a cautionary tale in this as well. When Obama was running for president, he was dismissive of those who came before him. The problems we faced, at home and abroad, would be fixed by signing this executive order and passing that piece of legislation. Hope and change were on the way. “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game,” Obama is reported to have said back in 2004.

Being president seemed so easy before he actually was president. At the point he took the oath of office, the problems became harder to manage, more difficult, more intractable. “When I said, ‘Change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say, ‘Change we can believe in tomorrow,’ ” Obama told an audience last month. “Not, ‘Change we can believe in next week.’ We knew this was going to take time, because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.”

Every person who runs for president, it’s fair to say, has a healthy ego. But Obama was different; the self-assurance, the arrogance, the sense that he viewed himself as a world-historical figure was almost palpable. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” Obama told congressional Democrats during the 2008 campaign. A convention speech wasn’t enough; Greek columns needed to be added. “Generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment,” Obama said – a moment when, among other achievements, “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” And during the campaign, while still a one-term senator, Obama decided he wanted to give a speech in Germany– and he wanted to deliver it at the Brandenburg Gate.

Yet now we see the Obama presidency coming apart, piece by piece, day by day. Democratic lawmakers are attacking the president on the record. The unhappiness in Obama’s own party toward the president might soon evolve into an open revolt. Those who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 are saying, with some degree of self-satisfaction, “I told you so.” And the words of Solomon will be proven right again. “Pride goes before destruction,” he wrote in Proverbs, “a haughty spirit before a fall.”

If you dig beneath the rationalizations and the excuses, the field of strawmen, and the barrage of attacks on the motives of his opponents, one can only wonder: In his quiet moments, during times of self-reflection, has Obama –an educated and literate man — learned much of anything from all this?

 



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