Our Passive-Aggressive President

I’m not terribly impressed by the little cottage industry organized around the psychoanalysis of Barack Obama. Having made my way through several tiers of academia and cocktail circuits on both coasts, it’s difficult for me to buy the idea that our president is an alien, un-American being, and it’s even harder for me to get excited about giving him a good speculative probing.

So I don’t much know what kind of guy President Obama is, and I don’t much care. I do care quite a bit about what kind of president he is, however. Now, I admit, Obama’s puzzling leadership style has driven more than a few critics to plunge into labyrinthine investigations of his personality in the hopes of finding some explanatory key tucked away at its center.

Nonetheless, this is a fool’s errand. What matters is not whether the president is, for instance, a passive-aggressive guy, but whether he is a passive-aggressive president. The soap opera surrounding our Libyan engagement, and Obama’s halting and irregular efforts at managing it, have me convinced that the answer is yes.

A pattern has emerged. With the Wisconsin union drama, with the long, tormented passage and reversal of Obamacare, even with the Skip Gates scandal, the president has oscillated, one way or the other and sometimes both, between a mild-mannered non-interventionism and a terse, testy, yet attenuated variety of interventionism. So it is again with Libya. Neither the passivity nor the aggressiveness is without its bemused critics, right and left. And neither has proven very effective. Put together, they seem to deliver the worst of both worlds. His errors unforced, his support unreliable, his strategy inscrutable, Obama as president has time and again left allies and opponents in an uncanny perpetual lurch.

In 2008, it was John McCain who was lampooned and derided as the Erratic One. Three years later, Obama has shown a clear consistency only in his unwillingness to package his public policy conceptually for the American people. What could be more mysterious coming from a man whose presidential campaign was the most crisply and effectively delivered high-concept political pitch in American history?


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