President Obama's clumsiness reminds me of another late dynasty figure: Kaiser Wilhelm II, the lightweight figurehead of state of Imperial Germany.
You'll remember that the Kaiser got his rising country embroiled in a silly European war by frightening the pants off everyone with his reckless rhetoric. He could talk the talk, but when it came to understanding how to lead Germany as it took its place at the head of Europe after half a millennium of French hegemony... Well, he was clueless, he couldn't walk the walk.
I can't help feeling that we have another case of cluelessness in President Obams.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I think that President Obama is smart enough. And I believe he has been great at reading the liberal script. Getting ObamaCare passed was a stunning achievement even if it ends up dragging Democrats into a generation in the wilderness. The problem is that everything the Democrats want to do is bad for America, and President Obama has dug an awfully deep Democratic hole for his party and his country.
First of all, foreign policy. It was great fun to rag on President Bush right through the 2000s. But we now understand that, right or wrong, Bush and his team did some serious thinking about how to respond to the movement of resistance to western hegemony that we call Al Qaeda. There's plenty wrong with democratic capitalism, but Islamic extremism isn't the wave of the future. As President Obama is finding out, the natural role of the United States is to put a stop to movements like Al Qaeda and to keep your average thug dictatorship in a box. So the real "reset" on foreign policy is the reset on all the silly things that Democrats said and did in opposition to President Bush. Unfortunately, President Obama is probably not the right chap to do that.
Second, domestic policy. For the last 75 years Democrats have successfully run a two-speed domestic policy. In the good times, you implement lots of wasteful government spending and build electoral support at the ballot box from the clients of that spending. When things turn south you wail about extremism and budget cuts. But suppose the game has changed? Suppose the Tea Party represents a new center of gravity in American politics that puts the sweet spot at a policy of spending restraint and skepticism about government? Then President Obama, a full-on pedal to the metal spender is not the right chap to lead the Democratic Party into an age of limits.
I like to read about successful leaders and that usually means successful generals. All of them seem to develop a kind of sixth sense about the battlefield and the correlation of forces. I feel that President Obama is good at reading the battlefield of Democratic politics. He proved that by beating Hillary Clinton. But I don't think he really understands moderate Americans like Jay Cost's in-laws.
My father-in-law is a retired steelworker and lifelong (soft) Republican; my mother-in-law is a teacher’s assistant and lifelong (soft) Democrat. They were both partial to Hillary Clinton, and were very uncertain of Obama, right up to Election Day. Even so, they voted for him because, as they told my wife, “It’s time for a change.”
I just don't think that Obama will have anything to say to Jay Cost's in-laws in 2012. I just don't think he understands people like that.
As the president slides into confusion, the question becomes: Who will be his Ludendorff, the chap who takes over when the head of state can't cut the mustard? And what will Democrats do in the spring of 2012 if it start to appear that Obama is in real electoral trouble?