I confess I’m not the most regular reader of Timeswoman Maureen Dowd, but — writing for The Nation, pundit watcher Eric Alterman uses her as an example of something that bugs him and that also bugs me.
Namely, the many of the less-rigorous thinkers among the punditocracy skip from a nasty problem (the Syrian Civil War, Putin bullying Ukraine, the slow growth of the U.S. economy) to blaming President Obama for not fixing it without passing through the part where they explain the fix that they think would work, and why it would work. These pundits, and it certainly goes beyond columnist, subscribe to what Alterman calls “the now-platitudinous Beltway belief that Obama should just fix everything already.”
This view has come to be known as the “Green Lantern theory” of presidential power, after the comic book superhero; according to this theory, the reason Obama has not been more successful is that he has failed to bring Congress to heel the way superior leaders like Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan did during their presidencies, through sheer force of will. But it might be more appropriately dubbed the “Glinda theory,” after the Good Witch of the North who advises Dorothy to close her eyes, tap her heels three times and think to herself, “There’s no place like home.” There is certainly no place like the one these pundits imagine Obama to be living in — one in which the likes of Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Eric Cantor can be forced to behave responsibly by presidential fiat.
Dowd, whom Alternman adopted as the symbol of the Glinda syndrome, actually wrote:
It is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.
Personally, I’m skeptical — or at least unwilling to assume, without evidence — that there was something Obama shoulda coulda done, at a reasonable cost to the United States in money and blood and diplomacy, to end the Syrian Civil War, provide Ukraine with clear, enforceable borders or deliver a steady GDP growth rate that would undo all the damage that the economy sustained in the Great Recession (which he inherited).
Of course we’ll never know how that smarter braver luckier president that we can conjure up from our imaginations would have done with the same set of problems. But in whatever alternative universe he or she presides, I wish him/her well.