The Corner

The Surprising Mr. Obama

In her Saturday New York Times column, Maureen Dowd offers her most biting critique of President Obama since his inauguration:

Times have been bad and sad, and The One did not turn out to be a messiah, just a mortal politician who ruefully jokes that his talent is hitting the “sweet spot” where he makes no one happy, neither allies nor opponents.

I had expected such a lamentation to be followed immediately by a broadside against the Right; perhaps with the typical Reid-esque charges of obstructionism, or cynicism, or “politics,” or anything that implies that culpability lies outside of the West Wing. Instead, she trains her fire on the president and keeps it steadily there. The thrust of Dowd’s argument is that the president feels “disappointed” by us. An “introvert,” he shares Jimmy Carter’s incredulity that our boisterous democracy does not bend happily to his definition of the rational. And so, hurt by America’s failure to appreciate his brilliance, he and Michelle have become physically and emotionally reclusive, preferring the company of a small clique of friends that recognize his gifts:

The portrait of the first couple in Jodi Kantor’s new book, “The Obamas,” bristles with aggrievement and the rational president’s disdain for the irrational nature of politics, the press and Republicans. Despite what his rivals say, the president and the first lady do believe in American exceptionalism — their own, and they feel overassaulted and underappreciated.

We disappointed them.

“Who knew, in the exuberance of 2008,” Dowd asks, “that America was electing an introvert?” The temptation, as scales fall from eyes, is to say, “I told you so.” It would certainly be a pleasure to perform this service for Maureen Dowd as she falls out of the procession of acolytes (at least, until the general election in November). But even for those of us who never bought Obama’s shtick, and who do not believe in either the Coming of the Age of Aquarius or that any president could “turn out to be a Messiah,” there has been much about this administration that has surprised.

I did not expect him to be an “introvert,” either. Nor did I expect the man to be such a terrible politician. Instead, I presumed that Obama would be an intelligent technocrat with a well-oiled and competent White House, and that he would be able to use his oratorical ability to his advantage. I fully expected that I would oppose what he would try and achieve — and I do — but I didn’t expect to be embarrassed watching him attempt it. As it happens, the Obama White House is a mess, the president largely shies away from detail — leaving it to the very Congress he blames for his ills — and his speeches tend to hurt any policy he is trying to advance. And he seems incapable of considering his own role in all of this. Maureen Dowd may be more disappointed than us on the Right by the way things have turned out, but is she more surprised? I doubt it.

The rest here.

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