For today’s quotable quote, I offer a bleak observation by a relative who is about liberal as they come and, thus, an intense devotee of Barack Obama and detractor of Donald Trump. Clearly the words were uttered with a deep sigh over the painful (for him) realization that the ideological pendulum is swinging back without ever having reached its leftmost apex.
The sentiment was also probably occasioned by the fact that Donald Trump is a high-energy type who has already spoken with world leaders, struck deals to increase jobs here at home, met with the victims of the terrorism-inspred knife attack at Ohio State University last week, and in general seemed very presidential.
If Obama is being upstaged by his successor, it’s partly because he is eminently upstageable. One of the most famous examples occurred early in his presidency, when Bill Clinton — a charismatic figure among Democrats — stopped by the White House press briefing room and started fielding questions about a recent tax bill signed into law. After several uncomfortable minutes, Obama interrupted “the president” long enough to inform him that Michelle was waiting. Clinton replied dismissively, “I don’t want to make her mad, please go.” Obama did, creating a famous photo op of him slinking offstage:
Despite Obama’s immense ego, his thin skin and lack of decisiveness on the world stage have made him a pitiable figure even among his supporters.
Earlier this year, one of them, the left-leaning Politico, wrote that “President Barack Obama is trying but failing to reassure foreign leaders convinced that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.” But as Mark Moyar of the right-leaning Foreign Policy Initiative writes in today’s New York Times, the reason Obama was unable to pacify his peers may have had less to do with their angst over Trump than with his own passivity as a leader:
Mr. Trump has indeed terrified foreign leaders with his “America first” mantra, his promises to enlarge the American military and his tough talk on everything from the Islamic State to Air Force One. The good news is that his administration can turn this fear to the benefit of the United States.
During the last eight years, President Obama showed what happens when the world’s greatest power tries strenuously to avoid giving fright. He began his presidency with lofty vows to conciliate adversaries, defer to the opinions of other countries and reduce America’s military commitments. Consequently, he received rapturous applause in European capitals and a Nobel Peace Prize. In the real world of geopolitics, however, the results have been catastrophic.
The mainstream media may have run interference for Obama over his failure to enforce “red lines” and cozied up to his meaningless rhetoric about “ending” wars, but world leaders grew restive watching the leader of the free world take refuge under his desk or on the golf links.
Here at home things were no better. Equipped with his phone and pen, Obama unilaterally barked out orders and regulations that expanded dramatically the power of the executive branch. These he would announce almost as a dare to Republicans in Congress whom he called obstructionists without ever once having attempted to reach out to them in the spirit of compromise. On the rare occasions when he spoke to the press, he would answer maybe half a dozen questions with overly long disquisitions on this topic or that.
If it no longer feels as if Obama is president, the reason may be because it never did.