More than a few observers have noted that President Barack Obama regularly seems a few beats behind things; unable to anticipate what is developing and awkward when forced to catch up. When he responds, his answers seem lacking something.
Good politicians are in tune with their times, great ones foresee them. But Obama often seems out of step with his times. He thinks he is in the right job at the wrong moment, handed a crisis he never expected.
He was told, and believed, he was the new FDR at the start of a new age of expansion, and it would be his job to redeem the old liberal vision. How could he know that a few months into his term the welfare state would implode both at home and in Europe. And instead of restoring the liberal creed to depression-age glory, he might preside over its final demise?
Two years ago, Time magazine had him on its cover as FDR redux, and Newsweek was saying that we were all socialists. Soon after that, the real socialists threw in the towel in Europe, admitting their system had not been successful, urging retrenchment and large cuts in government spending.
Obama’s response was to spend still more money, tout solar power and windmills, and treat warnings at home and abroad of a debt-fueled disaster as part of a ploy by the right in its drive to starve children. He seems noticeably annoyed at being driven off-message, ‘distracted’ (a favorite term) from the goal he came in with. This doesn’t fit in with his prior agenda.
He tends to treat everything as a political problem, but his reactions have been out of sync, and every assumption made by his friends has been wrong. They thought economic collapse would make people long for the strong hand of government; they were wrong about that. They thought people would love health care reform (they didn’t) and not resent the way it was handled (they did.)
They called Scott Brown a “teabagger,” and Brown won handily. They called the tea party racist, and it elected Hispanics, blacks, women and the children of Indian immigrants. They said Scott Walker’s cuts in Wisconsin made him a pariah, but his ally won a judicial election. They said Paul Ryan’s plan was a “suicide note” on behalf of his party, and a hit list directed at women and children. At the end of last week, the Gallup poll had Obama’s approve-disapprove ratings at a 41-50 deficit, while his approval among independents (who elected him in the first place) stood at a staunch 35 percent.
FDR inherited a government that was puny and weak and he enhanced it; Obama took one that was already obese and tried to expand it, and these two are not the same thing. FDR planned Social Security to kick in at age 62 (the average age of death then, and the age when he would die). He never foresaw a world in which people lived into their 80s and 90s with knee replacements and open heart surgery.
In 2008-09, magazines showed Obama with FDR’s hat and cigarette holder; in 2011, the National Review gave them to Paul Ryan, as the New Deal’s reviser. History gave Obama his chance to make history by creating a sustainable safety net for the 21st century, and so far he is blowing it.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”