Friday, January 08, 2010

The exaggerated and unrealistic expectations of Barack Obama

Politico's Ben Smith posts a defence of Obama by a reader, Ellie Light, and I think it's a really good one. Read it all, but here's some of it:

Right after Obama's election, we seemed to grasp this. We understood that companies would be happy to squeeze more work out of frightened employees, and would be slow to hire more. We understood that the banks that had extorted us out of billions of dollars, were lying when they said they would share their recovery. We understood that a national consensus on health care would not come easily. Candidate Obama never claimed that his proposed solutions would work flawlessly right out of the box, and we respected him for that.

But today, the president is being attacked as if he were a salesman who promised us that our problems would wash off in the morning. He never made such a promise. It's time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can't just wave a magic wand and fix everything.

Though I continue to support the president, I have been deeply critical of him on a number of issues, and I think he deserves such criticism even, or especially, from those who support him.

But I also think he has suffered, in terms of sagging approval ratings, not just from obstructionist Republican opposition and an inept Democratic majority in Congress but from exaggerated and unrealistic expectations generally. It really is like many people thought he could just come in and perform Herculean tasks, cleansing Washington of its institutional corruption and dysfunctional malaise and bringing in change by presidential fiat, succeeding simply by virtue of being... Barack Obama.

That was never to be, of course, and he knew it, and many of us knew it, but for some reason he is still being attacked for not performing up to those lofty expectations despite the fact that he has actually accomplished a great deal this year (e.g., economic stimulus plan, health-care reform, improving America's image abroad).

For all his faults and for all his policy missteps -- and we can continue to argue over them -- Obama has been what I think he told us he would be, more or less, and we would do well to measure him not by the standards of exaggerated and unrealistic expectations but by the standards of a reality that he himself understands all too well.


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