Eric Alterman complains over at the Daily Beast that the 2010s are turning into the 1970s, because Obama is as politically obtuse and unresponsive as Jimmy Carter: “Both men rule without regard to the concerns of the base of their party. Both held themselves to be above politics when it came to making tough decisions. Both were possessed with superhuman self-confidence when it came to their own political judgment mixed with contempt for what they understood to be the petty concerns of pundits and party leaders. And worst of all, one fears, neither one appeared willing to change course no matter how many storm clouds loomed on the horizon.”
I feel Alterman’s pain. But this is a natural and predictable consequence of the kind of adulation that takes a man from — what was Obama five years before the presidency, state senator? community organizer? student-body president? — has massive, adoring crowds hail him as The One, the New FDR, the man who will heal the oceans, etc., and thrusts him into the world’s most powerful position despite his lack of any obvious preparation for the task. Isn’t there the obvious risk that the fellow himself — looking at how he was able to defeat all the pundits, experts, and party regulars, on a tide of public worship — might believe his own press, and think that he must be smarter than Alterman and everyone else? (It’s a risk even for politicians who do not have an element of secular messianism accompanying their political rise. The first President Bush was wont to ask his adviser James Baker, “If you’re so smart, how come I’m president and you’re not?”)
I have no animus against Barack Obama, I really don’t. I didn’t vote for him, because I thought the other candidate’s policy views were closer to mine; but I wished him well. I did worry, though, what would happen once his millions of fervid supporters came to have doubts about his specialness: Would he able to lead, once the aura of invincibility was punctured? The thoughts of Eric Alterman are, on this, a leading indicator.