When it comes to President Obama, Americans have only two states of being: on or off. He is either the outsider who can bring about real change or he is a Washington insider just like the rest. The reality is that he is both, and most people find it hard to grapple with that paradox. After years of "simple-minded" nonsense from the Republicans and the Tea Party, complexity in leadership is out of fashion, but in complexity lies balance, and that is Obama's biggest strength.
When Candidate Obama rose to the Presidency in 2008, he did so on a tidal wave of hope and change, sentiments that most Americans, Democrat and Republican, could relate to. The hope was for a change in the way that Washington operates and the creation of a more transparent government that ran in the best interests of the people.
But when he got to office, Obama found himself unable to effect the change that he had promised. Republicans were more interested in sabotaging the Democrats than in governing, and Democrats were unwilling to get behind their President and help him execute on his ambitious agenda. The result was a series of bruising fights that tarnished the image of the White House and the President. What Obama discovered was that idealism was not enough to govern effectively.
To make progress and to get things done, he was forced to make a string of compromises, including on his landmark legislations like the financial stimulus and the healthcare law. The people of America watched as the White House cajoled, threatened, and bartered to govern, and in the process reached the conclusion that Obama had failed in his core mission and sold them out.
But the people's assessment is wrong.
What Obama has learned "on the job" in the last four years will enable him to produce serious results for America in a second term. The man who assumed the Presidency in 2008 was a simple idealist, the man who won the healthcare battle by using every trick in the book was a desperate pragmatist, but the man you see today is the perfect blend of the two - a principled idealist who also knows how to get things done in Washington. In other words, an experienced leader.
That is not to say that the coming four years will not be fraught with challenges or that he will not lose as many battles as he wins, but this time around he knows the game, the players, and the shortcuts, and that is not just a benefit but a necessity for the Presidency of the United States. Let's be real here: as much as we would all like Washington to change the way it does business, the truth is that our system is not going to change that quickly, and nor will the two entrenched political parties, not to mention the powerful lobbies, simply give up their control over the process and go home. Any President, Democrat or Republican, will have to work within the system to achieve results for the American people, and any President who can combine political "street-smarts" with strong personal beliefs will be, in essence, the perfect leader for our nation.
Barack Obama has fought continually for working class and poor Americans, and like steel, he has been through the fire and come out stronger. In my piece, The Case for Barack Obama, I discussed the President's major achievements in his first term, including his deft handling of several domestic and foreign crises, his bailout of Wall Street without which our financial system and then our entire economy would have collapsed, his brave stand on the issue of gay marriage, and his Homeric battle to obtain decent healthcare for all Americans.
Yes, he has made mistakes and there are still plenty of issues left for him to address, but we cannot blame him for becoming adept at navigating his way through the maze of Capitol Hill, or for building political clout that will help him govern, especially in the face of a malevolent opposition. If we want a blind idealist in the White House, then we should not expect actual progress on policy, and if we want a purely real-politik President, then we better be prepared for some serious compromises to our values and principles.
The bottom line is that we either give Obama credit for what he has learned over the last four years, and let him finish the job that he started, or we can keep playing the game of "replace the leader", expecting miraculous results, and keep being disappointed.
Obama deserves four more years, it's that simple.
Sanjay Sanghoee has worked at leading investment banks and hedge funds and is also the author of two novels (available below). Please visit www.sanghoee.com to sign up for updates.