Commentary Magazine


Topic: head of government

The Price of a Historic Vote

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

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