I liked Obama from the beginning. I thought he was, to use the words of the late Stuart Scott of ESPN, cool as the other side of the pillow.
I still like him.
I’m fascinated by the way he goes about the business of being President. Stylistically, he’s no drama Obama. In Obama’s world, things are never as good as they look in the best of times, nor as bad as they seem in the worst of times. Substantively, he is guided by the belief that good policies ultimately make good politics.
His working style is deliberative. He takes his time. He’s from Hawaii. He’s on Island Time. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who worked for Obama and seven of his predecessors, called Obama, “The most deliberative President I’ve worked for.”
Deliberation, however, is not to suggest paralysis. In his book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Gates reflected on his work with Obama in the planning and execution of the takedown of Osama bin Laden: “I was so proud to work for a President who made one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed at the White House.”
A decision, Gates admitted, he had opposed, as had a number of other members of Obama’s National Security team. Opposed because of the risks involved.
The Right has tried to use Obama’s penchant for deliberation against him. Deliberation sounds academic. It may involve thinking, possibly even study … endeavors with which the action heroes of the Right are uncomfortable.
Up until fairly recently, Vladimir Putin was the Right’s model for a strong leader. He made decisions and acted upon them. (Indeed, Bill O’Reilly and Rudy Giuliani haven’t been quite the same since they got a gander of Vlad with his shirt off, riding a white horse. Be still their little hearts.) The fact that Putin’s actions are driving Russia to the brink of disintegration … well, they don’t talk about Vlad so much anymore.
The reality is that concerning Putin, Obama has played a subtle and masterful game. When Putin overreached in Ukraine, Obama applied sanctions … minor at first, but gradually ratcheted up. Meanwhile, Obama worked with the Saudis to ensure a strong oil flow, which has suppressed the price of oil and adversely affected the export-driven economies, not only of Russia, but also Iran, another country with whom we have “issues”.
While putting Putin in a box, Obama did not gloat or publicly claim any sort of victory. His goal is not to humiliate, his goal is to advance American interests.
He has kept the channels of communication open with Iran and Russia, both of which are helpful to us against ISIS, and, if the nitwit Right doesn’t get in the way, are capable of being of more help to us in the future.
Obama’s belief that good policy eventually makes good politics is starting to show in the polls. He clearly had a challenging stretch during much of 2014. Now, he’s entering the seventh year of his presidency, and Gallup has his approval rating at 46%. Reagan was at 48%, and Bush II was at 34% at similar points in their presidencies. So he’s in OK shape in terms of public approval, and his graph is on the upswing.
Obama is not about building a legacy. That’s media happy-talk. He views his role as that of a runner in a relay race. He’s been given the baton for eight years. His job is to make sure that when he hands the baton to his successor in January of 2017, the country is in better shape than it was when he received it in January of 2009.
There is no doubt that at the three-quarters mark of his presidency, Obama has run a good race. Simply by doing his job, he has made the most mean-spirited of his critics look small and shrill by comparison.
I continue to believe we’re lucky to have him.
I will post again on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 (or before, if the news flow dictates) and, for the time being, I will post on the first Wednesday of each month.
Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.