Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

September 28, 2012

Slate: Why we want presidents like LBJ

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

What conditions would require you to be as successful as Reagan and FDR?

One of the great questions of the Obama presidency is whether he understood his political time. He promised to transform politics by being above it. Was this naïve?

Early in his term, Time magazine depicted Obama on the cover looking like FDR. He should have denounced it as grossly unfair. The comparison set expectations he could never meet and which haunt him as he tries to get re-elected as a man who has not lived up to the hagiography.

When FDR came into office, the economic crisis had been dragging on for years. That meant his opponents had been fully discredited. The public had been suffering long enough and were hungry for bold action. Obama didn't enjoy any of these conditions. The recession still felt fresh. Though Bush's approval ratings were lousy, conservative ideas were hardly out of fashion. Indeed, during the 2008 campaign, Obama referred favorably to Reagan's transformative politics. Without a discredited GOP, Obama was never going to easily build new coalitions.

Obama didn't have an issues-based movement behind him of the kind Reagan and FDR had when they were elected. There was no conservative tax revolt or labor movement to propel his domestic policies. Anti-war supporters helped elect Obama, but that didn't give him a sustained source of energy once in office. With a movement behind you, supporters tolerate most political means employed to reach the desired ends. But Obama was the movement. The means and the ends got muddled. When he had to take emergency measures — buying votes with back-room deals, negotiating in secret, compromising on Republican ideas — he was immediately in conflict with the "new kind of politics" he had promised.

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