Blue State Views

Another Passionless Presidency?

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Thirty years ago, Jim Fallows wrote a cover article for The Atlantic that became famous for its take on Jimmy Carter's presidency. The article was entitled "The Passionless Presidency."  It's perhaps the best perspective available on the Carter presidency, as worthy of a close reading now as it was then.

I thought of the Fallows piece this weekend when I read Neal Gabler's op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, which laid out this argument about the Obama presidency:

But there is one big thing that the administration lacks: passion. It is hard to remember a presidency that was as passionless as this one is – a presidency that puts down no markers, draws no lines in the sand, makes no stand. That, even more than the compromises themselves, may be what really riles Obama’s old supporters. It is that he doesn’t seem tortured by the compromise. Simply put, Obama seems to be missing the passion gene.

I agree with Gabler's take on Obama. There's something about Obama's devotion to "cool reason" that leaves me cold. Is there anything that really stirs him? Is he willing to go to the mat on anything?
By noting the Fallows piece here, I don't mean to conflate the two arguments about these two passionless presidencies. And I certainly don't mean to imply that Fallows would sign on to Gabler's view of Obama. Finally, I don't mean to suggest that Carter and Obama are alike in all the particulars. But there is something disturbingly similar about the demeanor and manner of the two presidents: the "I'm the smartest person in the room" affect; and the sense that policymaking is a matter of getting the technical matters right, after which, other political actors, seeing the obvious merits of the positions, will fall in line. 

There are differences, of course. Unlike Carter, Obama had the sense to hire a chief of staff with intimate knowledge of Washington's (especially Congress's) inner workings. And the president himself is not, as Carter was, a total stranger to the Washington political culture.  And so far there is no evidence that Obama, though having his hands in lots of pots as Carter did, similarly wastes his time with micromanagement and with devoting his attention to trivial matters. 

But almost a full year into his presidency, Obama's performance in office raises disturbing questions about whether his, too, will ultimately be deemed a passionless presidency, with all the failings that entails.

0 thoughts on “Another Passionless Presidency?

  1. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to read this!!!!
    Throughout all of 2008, there were certain voices trying to warn people to beware of the golden rhetoric of Candidate Obama — that his ideals and glorious statements would get bogged down and trampled due to his inability to govern. These voices warned that his complete lack of experience in governing might be masking the fact that he cannot accomplish those lofty goals he was heralding.
    Most frustrating is your “smartest person in the room” comment. When certain wise actors tried to point out that this guy thinks he is more Superman than Man, we were dismissed for being raw partisans. (Actually, we were called racist, but that is a gripe for a different day.)
    You got in a President exactly what you advocated for and what you demanded. It didn’t work out the way you thought it would, but that’s not his fault, it’s yours.
    When you buy a car, you look under the hood to see if the inside is as good as the nice finish. People didn’t do that before they voted for President.
    Who’s fault is that?

  2. Oh, gimme a break, ATP. You are such an asshole. (Yes, my replies are all about personal attacks.) “These voices” are all in your head.
    Obama could govern just fine if it weren’t for the pathological obstructionism of the Republicans you idolize.
    Passionless as Obama might be, he is still lightyears better than either John (Stupid as Shit) McCain or Hillary Clinton.
    Go soak your head.

  3. ATP –
    Don’t you think that he’s flipped out over the top??? He’s ranting and raving like a nut case, and you know EXACTLY what buttons to push!
    Ha! This is fun to watch.

  4. PLUS, what “passion” could Hillary Clinton or John McCain ever have brought to the presidency? McCain is senile and stupid. HRC is all about Hillary. Passionless as Obama might be, he is still a thousand times better than either of those other presidential wannabes.
    So, I’m glad that I got your blood pressure up for a minute, but it’s only because your panties are in a twist. Fix that, and you’ll be fine again.

    ATP, It is SO typical of you to pick on this post about Obama’s cool dispassion, rather than commenting on the post below about Republican obstructionism and the hijacking of majoritarian democracy by the pathetic partisans with whom you identify.

  6. Dear Jack (which I assume is short for “Jackass”)
    My comments have nothing to do with McCain or Clinton. I never said anything about the either of them, nor would I on this ridiculous blog.
    Last year, when I criticized Obama, you never said he was flawed, but better than the other choices. What you said over and over, was that he was this Messiah who was sent to save us from post-partisan politics and would finally look beyond corporate lobbying and do the right thing.
    I continually tried to warn you that you were naive to think that his performance could come anywhere close to his rhetoric. You continually shot me down (and called me racist) and yet, here today you write an articulate and well reasoned defense of everything I told you.
    I realize it causes you to get your little liberal panties all in a twist to realize I was right, and that’s why you lash out at me, that’s what you did in your posting.
    Who knows — Clinton might have been even less passionate and McCain might have even been worse, but Obama is turning out to be everything I told you he would be.
    And by the way — I am in no way criticizing Obama in all of this. I happen to think he very well may be the best Republican Presidents we have ever had.

  7. You guys should have a TV show. I would watch!

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