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Great Challenges Make Great Presidents? Obama Not There Yet

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(photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I wrote this article today for reviewing President Obama's performance over the past year.

I hope you'll read the entire piece -- but here's the intro plus a bit more:

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Great Challenges Make Great Leaders
Yes, Obama inherited a presidency in bad shape. But he's yet to deliver the "change" he promised
By Steven Clemons

Expectations of Barack Obama's presidency perhaps have been unfair -- expecting him to deliver to a better place an America that had seen its military, economic and moral preeminence badly shattered during the preceding tenure of George W. Bush.

But great challenges are actually what make up the stuff of great leaders, and regrettably, Barack Obama -- though mesmerizing on many levels -- has demonstrated thus far more of an ability to deliver policy outcomes generated by inertia and incrementalism rather than changing the laws of political gravity, which is what he must do if he is to succeed in office.

Barack Obama can't be measured by the same stick as most American presidents. He must be better and do more. We are at a time of historical discontinuity in U.S. history -- a point at which America's global social contract with other of the world's stakeholders must be renegotiated and when America must reinvent itself, its economy and its relationship with citizens on the domestic front. As Walter Russell Mead recently proclaimed at a New America Foundation event grading Obama's performance, "Being president is really hard."

Obama has failed to realize that the kind of "change" he promised during his campaign is actually the kind of change the nation needs. During the global financial crisis, he elected to ally himself with the architects of the previous financial order -- Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and their followers. And these neoliberal practitioners delivered a financial recovery course that helped Wall Street and yet again sacrificed the interests of the American middle class, just as they did in the past.

When it has come to correcting the disaster of the national security portfolio he inherited from the Bush White House, Obama talked up a good vision of changing the way gravity was working in the Middle East -- reaching out to problematic world leaders, establishing a workable course in Palestine-Israel relations, helping to create a credible vision of better opportunity for frustrated youth in the underdeveloped world. But when it came to action, his administration has been as paralyzed worse than the last.

Now I need to tune in to see what's happening in Massachusetts. Perhaps by feeling the pain of this Senate race, Obama will get to changing up his team faster than he otherwise would have.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons