Saturday, March 26, 2011
The Promise: Barak Obama, Year One by Jonathan Alter
I admire Barack Obama and have always seen him as a centrist. When he talks about transforming government, he is not advocating radical change, but rather that we make the decisions that need to be made to ensure our future as a world leader in the economy.
The gap between the apoplectic rhetoric of the right and the reality of the Obama administration seems even more pronounced after reading Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter’s new book The Promise, which depicts Obama’s first year in office as a clinic in sound decisionmaking. Obama is seen shuttling between policy meetings that he concludes by enumerating “take home” messages, and his study where he reads briefing binders late into the night. While George W. Bush may have been our first president with an MBA, it is Obama who seems to have absorbed the management practices taught in business schools. The result is a White House that feels wonky, competent, slightly claustrophobic, and even a little boring, but never revolutionary.
Yet there is clearly something else going on. In an interview with Alter, Obama describes his approach to policymaking as a search for the correct answer to a problem. In this view, if you ask analytic questions, collect good information, and strip away ideological predilections, the right policy choices for America should become self-evident.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama was covered from more angles than any presidential candidate has been before. Why he ran was not self-evident. The answer is not forthcoming in “The Promise,” either.
Obama has made mistakes but he has learned from them (think George Washington). He is very good at politics. The second is that by parsing the difference between Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Obama made it clear that he, too, aims to have a transformational effect on America. Obama is content for now to present himself as a technocrat solving problems, but one suspects that he has a grander design in mind. For those who have faith in him, this is the promise of his presidency. But for those who don’t, this is the real threat, that the best player at the table has not yet shown all his cards.