Watching the news this week I finally got the right word to describe President Obama: feckless. Obama the Feckless. This epithet has been a long time coming but after two years of agonizing, I finally got the right word.
It came to me on Thursday night watching Lawrence O'Donnell reporting that Obama has been strangely silent on Wisconsin and the right wing attack on collective bargaining, which, if successful, will gut the unions and a cornerstone of Democratic party power. After initially mumbling a few words of support, there was some media criticism, and so, predictably by now, Obama withdrew and has been a silent witness to the potential demise of is own party, to say nothing about the demise of one of the basic rights American workers fought so hard to establish. He has no plans to travel to Wisconsin.
Then there was the report from Anderson Cooper interviewing a Libyan woman in Tripoli who said that she and everyone she knew had been extremely disappointed by Obama's speech that morning. What was needed, she said, was strong support for the people's movement, not diplomatic platitudes.
What he concentrated on instead was the announcement of his support for gay marriage, which, while important, seemed strangely disjointed, given these other crucial national and world events. While Rome burns, he is jockeying for 2012.
Throughout history, different epithets have distilled a leader's tenure in power. One thinks of Alexander the Great, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionhearted, Louis XIV the "Sun King." There has also been Charles the Bald, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Edward the Confessor, Thatcher the "Iron Lady."
Obama will certainly go down as the first black American president, and this is how he will probably be remembered in the history books. But in terms of the actual significance of his leadership and what he substantively has done during his tenure, feckless -- which means "unable or unwilling to do anything," or "lacking the organization necessary to succeed" -- is the only apt word.
The tragedy of Obama is that he came into office with more political and moral capital than any president in modern American history. He represented transformation. So expectant was the world that they gave him a Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of his greatness. He has squandered it all, not in any valiant fight for ideals or change, but in compromise, temporizing, and vacillation. Even in terms of the Defense of Marriage Act, his announcement was that he had changed his mind.
John Kennedy once observed that power either stabilizes or destabilizes a person. Power has destabilized President Obama.
His potential for transformational greatness has been short circuited by an unwillingness or inability to actually lead. He has somehow lost himself in short term tactical calculations and in the self-delusion that he is somehow a grand conciliator, someone who will preside over squabbling Democrats and Republicans. Given the realities of both parties, combined with his own deficiencies, nothing could be farther from the truth. What is needed in the presidency is a leader, not a referee.
As we approach 2012, we need to face the sad fact that Barack Obama is not up to the job. He is too young, too inexperienced, too out of his depth. Bill Clinton was right, Obama was a "fairy tale." He needed to wait eight years. Obama's premature presidency has revealed him to be feckless and condemned the country to the politics of paralysis. Coming in the aftermath of the disastrous presidency of George Bush, it is a real question whether the nation will soon recover, whoever wins the next election.
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