Forget the polls: I woke up yesterday with the cold hard conviction that Obama will lose the presidency. It was a moment when wishes dropped away, exposing a bleak vista shaped by the President’s own choices and style of proceeding.
If only he thought of his office differently, Obama would be far more popular than he is, and his reelection would be a certainty. From the start, he has styled himself as an activist president rather than an executive duty-bound to stand as a symbol of the whole country and its legislatively expressed will. His would not be a role secondary to the other leaders of his party. No, from the outset Obama has positioned himself as one who, separate from all others, would push to redirect established institutions of power. From the vantage of the White House, he would elevate the nation to a state that had previously eluded the whole governing community and other members of his party.
This vision has given free rein to the narcissism and paternalism that are aspects of Obama’s personality. After a point, it doesn’t matter whether the president has a good heart or an intelligent grasp of policy: what matters is that, in his zeal to do more and be better than others, he is subverting the collaboration and interdependence on which the government is premised.
When Obama was first running in 2008, I was reluctant to believe Chicago friends who told me that he was famous for throwing fellow-Democrats under the bus. Four years later, after watching Obama tirelessly lecture and upstage everyone else in his party, I’m ready to believe. The latest instance was on Friday, when the president couldn’t wait to strike out in a new direction on immigration policy—a complex and divisive issue whose resolution warrants the whole voice and weight of Congressional authority.
Sadly, in arrogating to himself matters more appropriately left to Congress, Obama has foregone the chance to be a different kind of executive—one who embodies the authority of the government and symbolically represents the people as a whole. By aiming to do less, Obama could do more to uplift and unite a beleaguered country.