I am not a particular fan of Mr. Obama. Before he was elected, I was concerned that his initiatives would cause harm, his lack of foreign policy experience would jeopardize us internationally, his lack of political experience and a solid political network would make him insular and an ineffective collaborator with Congress, and his lack of real-world business experience would hinder his judgment. Events since his election have reinforced my opinion.
But, unlike the left's stereotypical expectation of his opponents, I don't want President Obama to be an utter failure. True, I'd prefer he not achieve much of what he strives for, but it's in my interest and the interest of all Americans that he be a good steward of American interests abroad and facilitate good government at home. It would be a serious problem if the President were to become completely ineffective. So the lack of dignity, resilience, emotional intelligence, and even political acumen that the President has demonstrated over the last several months are reasons for concern.
In the December 9 Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan's observations on the post-tax-agreement press conference are perceptive.
President Obama was supposed to be announcing an important compromise, as he put it, on tax policy. Normally a president, having agreed with the opposition on something big, would go through certain expected motions. He would laud the specific virtues of the plan, show graciousness toward the negotiators on the other side—graciousness implies that you won—and refer respectfully to potential critics as people who'll surely come around once they are fully exposed to the deep merits of the plan.There's no strategic advantage to being petulant, yet the President displayed petulance. There is no upside to admitting you were forced into an agreement you dislike, yet Mr. Obama not only admitted it, he trumpeted it. Although he has appeared to shoot from the hip more since it became clear the November setbacks were inevitable, it's not the first time his emotions have led to imprudent actions. At various times, he has insulted his opposition, offended allies, and dissed his friends. Not only are these not the actions of an adept politician, they are startlingly unprofessional at any level.
Instead Mr. Obama said, essentially, that he hates the deal he just agreed to, hates the people he made the deal with, and hates even more the people who'll criticize it. His statement was startling in the breadth of its animosity.
From the administration's beginning, the White House and Congressional leadership chose to set its own path rather than collaborate with others with divergent views. That was a luxury offered by a filibuster-proof majority. It may not have been wise (chickens do come home to roost), but it was possible. It appears, however, that it may not have been so much a thoughtful decision as a temperamental one -- and that temperament the one at the top. It's hard to believe that the President's advisers suggested, for instance, that he go out there in front of the press corps and explain that the decision he has just brokered is bad for the country. It must be that President Obama himself made that call. So we are left to wonder, what can be the cause of the President so energetically getting in his own way?
This goes far beyond wondering how big the landslide against him might be in 2012. This is the leader of the United States of America acting imprudently and against even his own best interests, not to mention the interests of the country which he is sworn to uphold and defend. I am honestly concerned. It's important for all of us that President Obama bring to his office all the strengths and talents he has at his disposal. It would be wise for him to gather around himself wise counsel who could not only help him understand and appreciate diverse points of view, but who might assist him in leaning into his strengths, managing his weaknesses, and increasing his resilience. And if he does so, I hope he can bring himself to listen to them.
Even Olympic champions need a coach, Mr. Obama. We don't begrudge you anything you can use in the pursuit of excellence. Just do it.