If your model of the role of the Chief Executive, and that upon which you craft both policy and strategy, is that of the ultimate mediator, such that advocacy is reserved for what remains when possibilities for negotiation have been exhausted, with the assumption that what has survived the grinder of compromise is, at this stage, the last and final responsibility of the President to explain, defend and push through to completion, the origin of policy will always be in the hands of others, whether from the legislative branch, or from agencies within the Executive branch itself (military, justice, surveillance), and of even greater consequence, will depend entirely on those who have been accepted as legitimate partners in this elite, extraordinarily limited dialog.
There is clearly no place for assuming even a rhetorical place for something like The American People, not even for Richard Nixon’s semi-mythical “Silent Majority. This is the reading I keep coming back to for Obama. A powerful, almost delusional idealism that sees the compromises he works to mediate, as representing, maybe the best and only possible representation of the national interests of the people, such that, he’s stopped cold at any critical examination of what this in fact comes down to.
I think this is a kind of insanity.
I don’t know how else to explain his opacity to the larger political reality; even a self-defined political pragmatist like Nixon saw the necessity of invoking the pretense of representing more than the interests of power that surged around him, but also, even if it was mostly rhetorical, like Presidents before him, cast himself as the one figure in government who was also the people’s ombudsmen and advocate. I see nothing of that in Obama… not a sign. There is something strangely out of place in how he operates—a neglect, if not a repudiation of what was once a central pillar of Presidential image and power.
I don’t imagine he thinks of it like this, but it’s as though he’s recognized this for what it largely was, part of the spectacle, a myth that it’s possible to dispense with—if you are a serious realist, which is how Obama seems to see and describe himself—a realism that disguises that essential, pathological idealism: his belief that working out compromises between the elite will ultimately work out for the best of all possible worlds.