The Magazine

Nobody’s Fault

Liberals make excuses for Obama

Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Obama’s campaign rallies were revival meetings at which people fainted. Allusions were made to biblical figures, Moses and Jesus being just two of them, and his acceptance speech at his nominating convention in Denver featured a grandiose stage with Greek columns, suggesting parallels to Zeus. He was no commonplace politician but an exceptional figure and man. “Many of the president’s supporters thought they were voting for the Green Lantern in 2008,” observed Sean Trende, reeling off a long list of speeches in which Obama had promised “A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.” As Trende put it, “The notion that Obama could provide unique leadership, rise above the old political rules, end the partisan bickering .  .  . and transform the country was the central theme of his presidential campaign.”

But when the transformative figure fails to deliver even commonplace competence, the letdown is even more terrible. Which leads to the last of all the excuses: The job is now simply too big.

When Republicans fail, it’s always their fault, but when things fall apart under Democrats, larger forces are always at work. In the first volume of his work, Reagan biographer Steven F. Hayward took a stroll with us down memory lane to the last time this happened, under one James Earl Carter: “The job of President is too difficult for any single person because of the complexity of the problems and the size of government,” pronounced the historian Barbara Tuchman. “As the country goes to the polls in the 47th national election, the Presidency as an institution is in serious trouble,” wrote the columnist Joseph Kraft. Political scientist Theodore Lowi said the presidency had become too big for even the likes of a Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Perhaps the burdens have become so great that, over time, no President will be judged adequate,” said U.S. News and World Report. And Newsweek added, “The Presidency has in some measure defeated the last five men who have held it—and has persuaded some of the people who served them that it is in danger of becoming a game nobody can win.”

There was much more of that, but as Hayward points out, this line of thought stopped being talked about halfway through Reagan’s first term. “There’s a .  .  . reason for that,” he noted. “The elite complaints .  .  . always abstract from the substantive views and actions of the occupant. The possibility that ‘maybe we have a crappy president’ ” refuses to enter their minds.

Especially it refuses to enter their minds when the president in question is not only the spokesman for their favorite political outlook, but the embodiment of all of their dreams. If liberals felt compelled to protect a peanut farmer from Georgia, what must they feel for an Ivy League-trained exotic from Hyde Park, a man of the world and messiah, a speaker and writer, but never a doer; themselves, in short, to the ultimate power; themselves as they dreamed they could be? And that is the problem: If he fails, then they fail, and that cannot happen. So the fault is in the stars, in the cards, in unfair expectations—anywhere but where it should be.

Noemie Emery, a Weekly Standard contributing editor, is author most recently of Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers