On Political Books

May/ June 2013 Overthinking Obama

Forget Kenya. The president’s secret political philosophy is apparently rooted in seventeenth-century Rotterdam.

By Mark Schmitt

Perhaps the whole approach was a mistake from the start, and Obama should have adopted an aggressive, ambitious posture to counter his opponents—or Hillary Clinton should have been president. Alternatively, one could argue that Obama didn’t invest enough energy in reform, process, and deliberative democracy. Imagine, for example, if instead of letting Congress figure out health reform, and instead of driving the policy from the White House (as many liberals contend he should have done), the administration had organized hundreds of mass community discussions, using the technology perfected in deliberations on topics such as the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, to involve tens of thousands of citizens in the questions of how (and even whether) to ensure universal access to health care and lower societal costs. It might not have worked, but it might have provided an alternative outlet to the raw anger of the Tea Party and the violent town hall congressional meetings of the summer of 2009. Nor did the administration live up to the promise to fundamentally change the power relationship among campaign donors, lobbyists, and government—but should we really be surprised that the most successful fund-raiser in modern political history would not ultimately be willing to shake things up?

Another possibility is that a crisis is simply the wrong moment for new politics. In a way, it’s miraculous that Obama was able to build the foundations for some very different approaches to governance, such as the Race to the Top education program, within the panicked, hateful environment of the economic crisis. Reading, for example, the recent report from the Republican National Committee on its party’s woes, one can see the effort to find a way out of the apocalyptic, all-or-nothing politics of 2009-2012, a politics that is unsustainable and out of equilibrium. As the political system slowly returns to balance, this might be the moment for a fresh politics, a new relationship between citizens and government, and a chance for Obama’s mode of politics—which, after all, reflects a deep American tradition—to show its strengths.

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Mark Schmitt is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.


  • Stephen on May 11, 2013 12:31 PM:

    Talk about projection! Straight out of Chicago, this piece absolutely invests too much thinking relative to Obama's approach to politics. Three simple words really go to sum up the man and his actions: "Rules For Radicals".

  • lakelady on May 12, 2013 1:17 PM:

    Hillary Clinton should have been president.

  • Theodore P. Savas on May 12, 2013 1:33 PM:

    This entire article overthinks the man. He is a focused idealogue and if you look at who he befriended growing up and during his early and middle-adult years, read his books, look at his mother and Frank Marshall Davis (mentors both), the pew he sat in for 20 years, and then pull out his ACTIONS as president, there is no smoke, there is no mirror, and there is no confusion. That man believes in is a Marxist theology, his sympathies lie in big central government here, and with the Islamic world abroad. His utter inexperience in the private sector is painfully obvious, as is his lack of any managerial ability. I would not have hired him in 2008 to run my small company of eight employees, and after watching him for 5 years, I would not do so now.

    None of this surprises me, but it seems to confuse the writer. Almost always the most simple explanation is the most accurate.

  • Ken Shaffin on May 12, 2013 2:01 PM:

    You have completely ignored, as usual for a MSM writer, the innate dishonesty of Obama and Hillary, that explain the essence of why their roots in ideology seem as elusive as this writer reveals while critiquing another's attempts to explain away Obama's presumed highbrow thinking along with his four years of ineptitude as a leader. It has become oh so obvious for all to see who are willing to avoid their preconceptions and notions that these two harbor not, as the author sums up with, any "deep American tradition" of political purity, but rather a basic self-interest and narcissism of one's own greatness. Their lies about Benghazi are the most illustrative of their lack of integrity and moral character which is one "deep American tradition" of American's expectation in their leaders. Obama is a failure. As is Hillary. That is all we need know any further about them.

  • Ken Puck on May 12, 2013 2:27 PM:

    I have no illusions that Barack is a deep thinker. He absorbed Saul Alinsky's dogma wholesale and has lived it. He seeks only to demolish America in its present form and then await what happens next, which he believes will be Shangri-La. Bizarre. No other word for it.

  • JohnO on May 12, 2013 8:39 PM:

    I agree. Everyone should stop over-analyzing this creature. He is a stone psychopath. Nothing he does will ever make sense to a normal person and it is a waste of time to try.

  • Bruce S on May 14, 2013 2:08 AM:

    Who directed all the mental patients over here?

  • g on May 15, 2013 3:23 PM:

    Throw a net over them! Were they all summoned by a link at World Nut Daily?

    Pretty telling that they are happy to declare "psychopath" and "radical" and "demolish America" without citing even one coherent example.

  • Doug on May 15, 2013 7:54 PM:

    Let's see now, a community organizer, a State Senator and then a U.S. Senator. What do these three have in common? How about: They rely on *convincing* others to work together; usally by words, but also by example? Which, to me anyway, fully explains Mr. Obama's approach to the Presidency. It's also the way most voluntary organizations work and, after all, voting in this country. being completely voluntary, could be looked on in that way.
    That the approach Mr. Obama seems to have adopted hssn't worked well can, I think, be placed squarely at the actions of his opposition. It's obvious that, for Mr. Obama'a approach to work, there *has* to be give and take; yet NO modern President has had to face a 100% united opposition on EVERYTHING he has proposed. None.
    As best I can tell, Mr. Obama's approach to governing is to approach it exactly as almost all previous Presidents have; a process where one doesn't get everything wished for but, at the same time, one gets *something*. You know, just as most people do in their everyday lives? A hint: that may very be exactly why Mr. Obama was re-elected.
    Such an approach obviously won't work when the opposition would rather crash the economy than vote for anything that *doesn't* make the President appear in a bad light. However, faced with such an opposition, would *any* other approach to governing, or style of governing, have been more successful? I can't see how.
    What's pitiful is the failure of pundits and the MSM to, at the very least, take note of the extent of the unprecedented opposition faced by President Obama and how that form of opposition then affects the ability of anyone to govern that really needs exploration. In which case then, O'Brien as provided neither a valid critique of Mr. Obama's method of governing nor even noted vallid reasons for any failures.
    All those trees, wasted You know, just as most people do in their everyday lives? Hint: that may very be exactly why Mr. Obama was re-elected.
    All those trees, wasted...

  • Forrest Leeson on May 16, 2013 1:02 PM:

    "Three simple words really go to sum up the man and his actions: 'Rules For Radicals'."

    Oh, deary deary me, hit-and-run poster -- have you ever considered what the often-invoked phrase "Alinskyite socialist" actually means? Of course not, Glenn Beck never explained it to you, so I'll spell it out.

    A socialist diagnoses the source of the public's pain as Republican policies.

    An Alinskyite (see the very Rules cited) seeks not to mitigate but rather to exacerbate the public's pain -- to oblige it to revolt.

    Consequently an Alinskyite socialist would therefore be -- rather than a conspicuous Marxist -- indistinguishable from a Republican.

    Whether Barack Obama is indistinguishable from a Republican is left as an exercise for the reader.

  • clarence swinney on June 18, 2013 3:22 PM:

    REAGAN=Nnicarauga-El Salvador- Hondurss-Lebanon
    BUSH I---- Iraq—Kosovo-Somalia
    CLINTON =0
    BUSH II=Iraq—Afghanistan--Pakistan
    How many innocents were killed due to our involvement?