Michael Barone writes that presidents must rely on “something intangible and unquantifiable, in determining what is within the realm of possibility and what is a bridge too far: intuition.” Alas, he finds Obama doesn’t have much of it: “On what he identified as the biggest foreign and domestic issues, Obama’s intuition has proved to be faulty. Things have not worked out as he hoped. And, though a president cannot micromanage everything, his deference to congressional Democratic leaders in determining the details of the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills has proven politically disastrous.”
Put slightly differently, Obama lacks judgment. We were told during the campaign that he had loads of judgment, and it would offset his experience gap. But alas, he lacked the judgment to assess nearly every critical issue he faced — the Iranian nuclear threat, the Middle East “peace process,” health-care reform, and his entire domestic agenda. He might lack intuition — the ability to foresee how events will unfold — but more critically, he also lacks the ability to assess events once they do unfold. He lacked the foresight to see that Iran would not respond to video valentines, but then he persisted in frittering away a year on engagement and standing idly by when democratic protestors could have used our help. And he has compounded his error by taking military force off the table and seemingly laying the groundwork for itty-bitty, ineffective sanctions. In sum, he doesn’t learn.
That inability to assess events, make adjustments, and correct course promptly may be attributable to a lack of life experience (e.g., he has never seen his ideological assumptions rejected so thoroughly, nor has he had to shift course so abruptly). It may also stem from arrogance — the belief that he has a monopoly on virtue and wisdom and that his opponents are rubes and/or operate out of bad faith. And then again, he may simply be weighed down by silly ideas (e.g., government can create jobs) and a lack of executive acumen. We don’t know, and we don’t know whether he can improve.
His defenders are reduced to hoping that he will be forced to improve by a congressional wipeout. Eleanor Clift writes:
The advisers around Obama would never admit it, but losing one or even both houses of Congress might be better for Obama than the gridlock paralyzing his agenda. History in our partisan age suggests that for a president to be truly successful and get big legislative achievements, a divided Congress may be necessary. Only then does each party have some stake in governing, and maneuvering room to compromise.
Well, Obama might be forced to improve if he loses both Houses. But then he’d still have foreign policy to puzzle out, new policies to construct, and an agenda to execute. In other words, even with a lot of help, the president still matters. And if the president can neither anticipate events nor react wisely to them, there’s not much we can do about it. Other than elect a new one.