24 thoughts on “Barack Obama’s Crucible

  1. I agree in large part, but here are where I would disagree–
    1–The next 2 years could be easier for him, and
    2–He will need to rely on soaring speeches.

    The easier aspect is now his party is out of power, which gives him the opportunity to let the congress argue policy and he can be free to be president–who should focus on leading the country and NOT mess around with leading his Party.

    If he does that, and does not screw around with individual sausage making, then he can focus the country on the weaknesses and the founding ideals we should be using to resolve them…instead of the existing backdoor dealing, how about leading us with the ideals of equality, justice, fairness, etc.

    Those words can be spoken softly, one-on-one, like King’s interview on The Mike Douglas Show. Or the occasional press conference and major speeches like past presidents. And he doesn’t have to say he’s seen the mountain top, if he speaks of foundational ideals that are being messed up by our parties in a way that urges healing and resolution, then those words could soar merely given how much they need to be said.

    This would move some people, this would provide lawmakers some lost ideals, and this would provide some leadership that is sadly lacking.

  2. Will Dewey says:

    Oh, I think that soaring speeches will be absolutely necessary if the President is to succeed in leading the American people to somewhere better than where we are now. Only once every two or three generations has America had a leader arise to take us where we didn’t want to go anyway, to find a better place, a better way, and a better America. Obama’s campaign in 2008 led us away from the conventional party politics, with more new voters than ever before; The People won that election, by an even wider margin than when they elected Bill Clinton. But now the President must deliver the detailed recipe for pie in the sky as the man from Hope never did, and it will be one of the hardest to follow that we have ever known.

    Of Hubert Humphrey it was once said that he was a statesman, not a politician. The difference is that a politician tries to do what his constituents want done; a statesman does what is right, and tells them why. Patience at the plate may get you a walk, Barry, but now you gotta swing the bat!

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    Re: “Now begins the test of Barack Obama.”

    Thirty years from now, I actually think historians may conclude that the first two years were the biggest test of BO, not the coming two. Historians may well focus on BO’s thankless wins on the financial bailout, auto bailout and stimulus package as preventing the financial crisis from becoming a financial meltdown. And, if it isn’t repealed, they’ll credit him for doing what no President has been able to do over sixty years, pass sweeping health care reform through Congress. The pro-consumer Wall Street reforms also go on the list of lasting accomplishments.

    With a divided Congress and a short fiscal leash, BO isn’t going to have any accomplishments in the next two years that compare with what he accomplished in the first two years.

    Contemporary observers will judge whether BO is a success or failure based on whether he wins reelection. But ironically, historians might give BO the most credit for the things about which voters give him the most blame, even if he loses.

    Will he get reelected? It depends most on the level of peace and prosperity at the time, not legislation passed or eloquence over the next two years.

    1. PM says:

      joe–i think you have hit the nail on the head. i think his accomplishments are already sufficient for history to judge him a success, even though we will probably judge him based on his re-election campaign outcome.

  4. Mike Kennedy says:


    Nicely written — very well said, thoughtful and reasoned.

    Time definitely will tell. The next two years will be a huge test for everyone — the president, the Congress, the political parties and all of us.

    I know I recommended it before, but Chernow’s new book on ‘Washington is 800 pages of leadership lessons from a man who gave up his love for his farm, his friends and his family to lead a David vs. Goliath fight for independence.

    How he managed to lead — whether it was his rag tag armies in battle — or deftly manage a new Congress — is literally spellbinding.

    He listened, thought and when he decided, there was no turning back. No fiction comes close to this.

  5. Good discussion, all. Smart.
    Mike, can you imagine how discouraged everyone was during the War of Independence? The strongest army in the world coming after a small group of radicals who were a minority in their own country. Good book recommend.

    David Brooks in today’s NYTimes has a lovely tough view of all this. He talks about the coming national economic catastrophe and the chances of heading it off while also dealing with energy, immigration and so many other tough issues. He’s hopeful, he says, because Americans can mobilize — many of us have behind Obama, many behind the Tea Party. Brooks sees another movement coming, “of people who don’t feel represented by either of the partisan orthodoxies; a movement of people who want to fundamentally change the norms, institutions and rigidities that cause our gridlock and threaten our country.”

    Brooks continues, in part: “You can’t organize a movement like this around pain — around tax increases and spending cuts. But you can organize one around a broad revitalization agenda, and, above all, love of country.

    “It will take a revived patriotism to motivate Americans to do what needs to be done. It will take a revived patriotism to lift people out of their partisan cliques. How can you love your country if you hate the other half of it?

    “It will take a revived patriotism to get people to look beyond their short-term financial interest to see the long-term national threat. Do you really love your tax deduction more than America’s future greatness? Are you really unwilling to sacrifice your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan?

    “Like the civil rights movement, this movement will ask Americans to live up to their best selves.”

    Can Obama lead us, with deeds and words and a leader’s higher calling, to a new patriotism?

    1. Are you SERIOUSLY quoting David Brooks approvingly?

      “It will take a revived patriotism to get people to look beyond their short-term financial interest to see the long-term national threat. Do you really love your tax deduction more than America’s future greatness? Are you really unwilling to sacrifice your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan?

      How many things are wrong with that statement? Patriotism? Why should old people give up Social Security to kill people who never did anything to them halfway around the world? Brooks is truly twisted, and I’m really surprised you would quote him that way. The real fight is between the corporatists and the plutocrats and everyone else.

      1. Newt says:

        Seven of the 10 wealthiest counties in America surround Washington, DC, where NOTHING is manufactured or produced …. other than … more government.


        I am inclined to agree with Rob; however, I would argue that the professional political and bureaucratic classes are no less toxic than the plutocracy.

      2. I’m shocked to have Newt agree with me. Regarding those counties around Washington D.C.: They are filled with corporate offices that lobby and feed off the federal government. It’s not really more government, just privatized and corporate-run government.

  6. Mike Kennedy says:

    Good points, Bruce.

    Only the truly partisan who are so clueless they can see nothing but THEIR way will stand in the way. And you’re right. They exist in several ideological flavors. For them, there is no compromise.

    I think the ideas that in the last few days coming from Bowles/Simpson on cutting everything from home deductions to raising the Social Security age to cutbacks in virtually every area of the budget is a good start.

    Now watch the hacks start screaming. No you can’t touch Social Security or no you can’t touch defense or Medicare of home interest deductions.

    The notion that we can escape shared sacrifice is not only irresponsible but it is unpatriotic and selfish.

  7. Ellen Mrja says:

    Bruce: I am watching the president at the G20 summit closing news conference (from 11/12/10) and it’s awkward/painful. The room is one-fourth full. He nearly begged for the last question to come from a South Korean journalist (it never did) and got into a bit of a verbal tussle with a Chinese journo who stood up, instead. Darn Chinese; they are the source of all of our economic problems, right?
    He looks ashen. The “greying of the President” we have seen over and over in our commanders-in-chief is running full steam with this one.
    What bothers me is that in front of the world stage, when literally every player in the summit is looking to him for leadership, he instead sounds defensive. Certainly not like the leader of the free world. His attempt to use the phrase “Folks have been saying..” or “Folks must think..” or “What folks don’t know…” to calm all critics just doesn’t do it anymore. Make no mistake, as the president is fond of saying: I believe we had to prop up the financial industry (although we should now be pursuing criminal actions against those crooked bastards. Does anyone remember what was done to Martha Stewart?) and that, eventually, health care reform will be tweaked into something of great value. Those were important, important moments.
    However, I still don’t hear the harp music you must when you envision Obama. I wish I could; but, honestly, I wouldn’t consider putting his name in the same paragraph as Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.
    This is not a personal assault, my dear Bruce. I also voted for Barack Obama.
    I am only remarking that you are so romantic when it comes to this president you still don’t see the man.
    Would that be fair?

    1. Newt says:

      Obama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize less than 60 days into his presidency. This is what happens when legions or people romanticize the persona, overlooking (until Nov. 2nd) the stark truths staring them in the face.

      Above all, Obama is a political creature. He is neither a visionary, a communicator, nor an executive. Everyone’s disappointment in him is for these reasons.

      1. PM says:

        I sort of agree with you, newt–he is most definitely a political creature, and his “failures” are due more to people’s expectations than to his actions. In that sense he is no more or less of a vessel for other people’s hopes, expectations, disappointments, etc. than any other president. And his successes/failures are as much the result of circumstances as they are of his own actions–and our perception of him depends mostly on our expectations of him.

  8. Mike Kennedy says:

    That’s a BIG if. History would suggest a much better economy in 2012.

    However, history didn’t forecast the dot.com bubble and crash or the real estate boom and crash and won’t predict the next big thud. We know another is coming. We don’t know where or when.

    There is a lot out of Mr. Obama’s control, including whether this easing will work or not or whether business will begin investing its capital for future growth. Then there is the political tough choices ahead. Two years is a lifetime in politics.

  9. Ellen M says:

    Bruce: Sad to say the president has decided not to fly with the angels but to use the old “Wag the Dog” technique.

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