Obama should just fix everything already

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.”

Writes Alterman:

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.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Hal Davis on 05/12/2014 - 12:27 pm.

    Magic word

    The word “somehow,” in the Maureen Dowd quote, is the black box, “the part where they explain the fix that they think would work, and why it would work.”

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/12/2014 - 04:03 pm.

    Fixing Things

    In some ways, fixing the really hard stuff is part of the job description of the President. He said that he could get us out of the Great Recession. It’s not quite fair to just decide that it was too big of a problem and ignore the part where he said he could do it.
    I don’t blame Obama (or any President) for not solving all the problems of the world, but I do expect them not to make them worse. Once he declared a ‘red line’ in regards to Syria, he had a responsibility to find a way to enforce it. He did nothing. After Putin swiped Chechnya, he could have set up a quick response to further Russian invasions. He and his staff laughed at the possibility. That doesn’t mean that he could have saved Ukraine, but he deserves some blame for the weak response.
    Do some overblame Obama? Sure. Of course. (Spoiler alert: you’ll see the same behavior the next time there is a Republican president, probably with the commentators switching sides.) This doesn’t mean that we just shrug and decide that Obama couldn’t have done a better job.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/12/2014 - 06:02 pm.

      The problem with your “analysis”

      Is that we have very little business in getting involved in civil wars. We have learned nothing from Vietnam. But Iraq was over the top stupidity – not only civil war but religious war. Historically Russia has endured and accepted totalitarian rule – it will not change. Note that Bush would today still have chosen to attack Iraq rather than Russia (if he could make time around his artwork). Now another committee on Benghazi from the right – ok than another trial on the Iraq war

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/13/2014 - 07:43 am.

        Civil Wars

        Wait, are you saying that the Russian takeover of Ukraine is a civil war? Or are you saying that we should have kept our nose completely out of Syria? Or are you just venting your spleen at Bush, because I can read it that way too. And frankly, it’s strange to characterize Iraq as a civil war as if there were two sides to it before we invaded.
        Re: Benghazi – it’s fine when government officials lie when Americans die, right? And when they go out of their way to blame overseas violence on art created in the United States, well, there can’t be any negative consequences from that, right? And really, how dare we question our betters in the government. Surely they will tell us what we need to know, when we need to know it.

        I think my favorite part of this post is the swipe at Bush for daring to take time to paint things now that he’s retired. How dare he? Really, how dare he???

        • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/13/2014 - 10:05 am.

          There are always two sides to a civil war

          How else could it be? The problem is the US involvement in a civil war ie Vietnam and yes Iraq. In fact our groundless attack created the civil war between the Sunni and Shia, with millions of deaths and no end in sight. Negative consequences? The lies that got us involved in Vietnam and Iraq have horribly damaged this country. Thousands and thousands of dead Americans who died for nothing. You should be calling for a war crimes investigation into the attack on Iraq based on your logic. Oh yes, I would have preferred that Bush would have just painted for the entire decade rather than destroy the lives of millions.

          • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/13/2014 - 02:34 pm.

            Bush, Bush, Bush

            I think that that the invasion of Iraq proved to be a huge mistake. I think that I’ve said that here before. It’s telling that no real defense of Obama is being offered. Blaming Bush is hardly an argument.

    • Submitted by Doug Gray on 05/13/2014 - 09:53 am.

      time for some facts

      The Syrian red line is being enforced; to date over 90 percent of its chemical weapons have been removed or destroyed. As you know the red line was about chemical weapons use.

      Putin didn’t “swipe” Chechnya, that region has been part of an ongoing conflict since the days of Boris Yeltsin. As for “further Russian invasions,” if you mean Georgia that conflict was also ongoing since at least 1990.

      You get your own opinions, not your own facts.

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